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El Niño has passed peak strength but impacts will continue, UN warns

El Niño has passed peak strength but impacts will continue, UN warnsThe El Niño that caused record temperatures, drought and floods over the last year has passed its peak strength but will continue to have humanitarian impacts for months to come, the UN has said.

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said the event, which plays havoc with weather systems around the world, was still strong and its impacts on communities in southern Africa, the Horn of Africa and Central America were becoming increasingly apparent.

El Niño is a global climate phenomenon that occurs every few years when a huge warm patch of water forms in the western tropical Pacific Ocean, affecting rainfall from the the western US and South America to Africa, India, Indonesia, and Australia. The UN World Food programme warned earlier this week that 100 million people were facing food and water shortages as a result of the El Niño.

The WMO said that although the current episode was closely comparable in strength with the record event of 1997-98, it was too early to say whether the 2015-16 El Niño was the strongest ever. The agency’s confirmation that the peak has passed follows similar recent announcements by national science agencies.

The WMO’s new secretary general, Petteri Taalas, said: “In meteorological terms, this El Niño is now in decline. But we cannot lower our guard as it is still quite strong and in humanitarian and economic terms, its impacts will continue for many months to come.”

He added: “Parts of South America and east Africa are still recovering from torrential rains and flooding. The economic and human toll from drought - which by its nature is a slowly developing disaster - is becoming increasingly apparent in southern and the Horn of Africa, Central America and a number of other regions.”

In a joint statement, the UN’s World Food programme, the European commission, the US government’s Famine Early Warning System and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warned on Thursday that staple food harvests across much of southern Africa would be badly hit throughout 2016.

“Much of southern Africa has experienced significant delays in planting and very poor conditions for early crop development and pasture regrowth. In many areas, planting has not been possible due to 30 to 50-day delays in the onset of rains and there has been widespread crop failure,” said the agencies.

South Africa, the breadbasket of the region on which many southern African countries depend for food imports in times of drought, this week issued a preliminary forecast of maize production for the coming harvest of 7.4 million tonnes, a drop of 25% from the already poor production levels of last season and 36% below the five-year average.

“Seasonal [weather] forecasts are predicting a continuation of below-average rainfall and above-average temperatures across most of the region for the remainder of the growing season. The combination of a poor 2014-15 season, an extremely dry early season (October to December) and forecasts for continuing hot and drier-than-average conditions through mid-2016, suggest a scenario of extensive, regional-scale crop failure”, said the FAO.

El Niño has played a key part, along with climate change, in driving global temperatures to record levels in 2015 and January 2016. The WMO said the current episode would likely fade away during the second quarter of 2016.

Source: The Guardian
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