26.06.2014 - UNESCO Office in Apia

El Niño 2014 in the Pacific: Once Burned Twice Shy?

Forecast of daily precipitation rate anomaly for the period July/August/September 2014. Source CPR 2014

This article is a summary from a more extended analysis regarding the 2014 El Niño risk and the evolving level of anticipation and preparedness in the Pacific. The full report, prepared by Denis Chang Seng, is available through the link provided at the very end of the article.

Societies climate-disaster risk coping capacity and mechanism will be tested once more. A potential major El Niño threat continues to develop in the Pacific. Following the worst El Niño impacts ever recorded worldwide in 1997-98, questions were raised about what might have been done differently if an accurate forecast had been available several months in advance of the onset of the March 1997 El Niño.  

The 2014 El Niño risk and its likely impacts will serve as an important test to shocks in different countries. In many countries vulnerability has increased due to more exposed population as well as more land degradation. The question today is what society is going to do, and to what extent they need to be prepared? Will society respond wisely and incrementally?  

The information collected from the selected Pacific countries is neither complete nor comprehensive due to availability of timely information. Nonetheless, drawing on examples from Fiji, Tonga, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Solomon Islands and Samoa provide useful insights to the current and evolving level of preparedness at different levels and key sectors (e.g. water).  

 

Findings 

The technical climate early warning system has advanced since the last major El Niño. In the Pacific region, National Meteorological Services are becoming aware of the probable development of an El Niño and are monitoring the situation very closely. El Niño risk and the likely impacts have been communicated to the National Disaster Management Organisations (DMOs) and to the wider public through different communication channels. Other improved coping capacities reported include:

  • Improved climate information (seasonal tropical cyclone and rainfall/drought prediction);
  • Improved link between warning centres, NDMOs and other stakeholders/public;
  • Improved public education on El Niño and its impacts.

The key weakness identified is that early advisory/warning information has apparently not yet reached all the relevant sectors and actors (last mile) in the respective Pacific countries. It is also clear that the news is continuing to spread. Despite timely information on the developing El Niño, it is unclear how this will be translated into decision making and concrete actions at the local level in order to reduce the likely impacts. Regular climate information updates may increase the likelihood of countries taking more concrete actions.                

This is particularly the case in Samoa, as thousands of people are expected from 1-4th September 2014 for the 3rd SIDS International Conference during the likely peak of the El Niño. A key challenge is to understand the time lag relationship between climate anomaly and actual impacts in order to be prepared, however actions and steps should never be left to the last minute in order to address the likely knock-on and cascading impacts of El Niño.

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