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El Niño in the Pacific

1997vs2015 el nino

Source: Vox

NZ NGO response

Climatologists believe the world is now experiencing a strong El Niño event. Some modelling is now suggesting this El Niño could be as severe as the event in 1997/98 which is the worst on record and brought severe drought to PNG and Fiji. As many as 11 South Pacific countries could be affected, placing 4.7 million people at risk.

Over the coming months, countries on the equator can expect more rain, flooding and higher sea levels presenting challenges for low-lying atolls already feeling the impacts of climate change. The more populous countries of the Pacific south west will see conditions get drier from now on with some eventually slipping into drought.

An El Niño event also has implications for the severity and range of cyclones, particularly for countries in the eastern Pacific such as the Cook Islands and Samoa. The El Niño-charged southern cyclone season ahead is likely to feature a greater number of more intense cyclones, forming over a larger area and longer period.

Communities can prepare themselves so they are more resilient to the impacts of El Niño. Planting drought resistant crops, installing water tanks and good hygiene are among the steps Pacific Islanders can take to get ready for what is to come.

A number of NDRF members are responding to drought, food and water shortages in the Pacific. These include:

Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand is working in PNG, supporting government-led rapid drought assessment teams by putting them in touch with local staff and facilitating field visits to rural communities. We have been closely monitoring the El Nino situation and liaising with partners on the ground and plans for an increased response are being prepared.

CWS works in Fiji, Solomon Islands, Timor Leste, Tonga and has supported indigenous people in Kanaky and Tahiti.

Oxfam New Zealand is preparing a humanitarian response in PNG and Tonga. The response includes distribution of water equipment, health promotion programmes that minimise the risk of waterborne disease and are helping communities prepare for drought by providing water saving advice and drought-resistant crops. 

Rotary New Zealand wants to position supplies near at-risk areas so that when the need arises, relief can be delivered immediately. While donors often want to give to a specific event, Rotary need donations now so that we can pack and ship supplies.

Save the Children has existing projects and trained staff in the Solomon Islands, PNG, Vanuatu and Fiji allowing them to deploy quickly. Save the Children's response is tailored to the needs of the community as we work with them and local government partners to help people identify what will work best - now – and for the future.

TEAR Fund are working with partners to create irrigated gardens in Vanuatu and working in disaster preparedness as the cyclone season starts. Tear Fund are also working in East Africa to ensure the effects of food insecurity are minimised to avert famine.

UNICEF is active in the countries affected and threatened by El Niño, providing support with a focus on the most vulnerable children in the areas of health; nutrition; water, sanitation and hygiene; education; and child protection.

World Vision are working in PNG, in the Solomon Islands where plans are in place to begin distribution if emergency water and sanitation materials to communities, schools and health centres. Right now, World Vision are already distributing food and water in Timor Leste. Our staff on the ground in the Pacific are continually assessing the situation and are making sure risk measures are being integrated into existing projects.

El Niño in response Globally

Childfund are working in Ethiopia, providing food aid to drought affected families. After the initial urgent response, ChildFund will work with communities and local organisations to make sure families do not slide back to desperation and food dependency. This will include restoring water sources, providing drought-resistant seeds and caring for livestock. 

TEAR Fund are working in East Africa with their partner World Concern to reduce malnutrition among high-risk groups such as children and pregnant women.