Countering El Nio

A call for an international front against the naughty child

Published: Thursday 30 November 2000

the impact of every natural hazard can be mitigated. Preparations to face the impacts of the next El Nio event should immediately start and this should be done through regional cooperation. This was stated in a report entitled Lessons Learned from the 1997-98 El Nio: Once Burned, Twice Shy? prepared by scientists from a number of international agencies, including the United Nations Environmental Programme. El Nio is the periodical appearance of warm sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. It can influence regional and local climates across the globe. In 1997-98, an El Nio event led to floods, drought, forest fires, frosts and infectious disease outbreaks, due to which numerous people died all over the world.

The basic objective of the report was to identify the pros and cons of societal responses to the forecasts and impacts of the 1997-98 El Nio, according to a report published in The Washington Post . If an accurate forecast had been available several months in advance, would it have made a difference? The report studied the impact of the 1997-98 El Nio on sixteen countries. Its recommendations include involving top government leaders in disaster planning and developing a scientific establishment within each country to make use of research from other nations. The report also expresses the need to conduct a detailed study about the most vulnerable areas and educating the local decision makers about evolving precautionary measures.

"It is hard, but not impossible to plan for El Nio, even in poor countries," says Michael Glantz of the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colombo, usa . "Many small countries do not have the resources to handle forecast. But by working together they can use data available with other nations," says Michael Coughlan of the World Meteorological Organisation.

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