El Niño Affects the Impoverished
El Niño is a climate pattern in the Pacific Ocean that affects weather worldwide. While it only occurs every two to seven years, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center announced the arrival of El Niño in June 2023. Experts say the typical weather patterns involve trade winds that blow West along the equator, which takes warm water from South America towards Asia. El Niño disrupts that pattern.

“During El Niño, trade winds weaken. Warm water is pushed back east, toward the west coast of the Americas,” says the National Ocean Service. “El Niño can affect our weather significantly. The warmer waters cause the Pacific jet stream to move south of its neutral position. With this shift, areas in the northern U.S. and Canada are dryer and warmer than usual. But in the U.S. Gulf Coast and Southeast, these periods are wetter than usual and have increased flooding.” Here is more about El Niño and how it affects the impoverished.

What Does It Do?

Experts say that the warmer-than-average water temperatures that El Niño creates can affect hurricane season. According to Meteorologist Brooke Silverang via ABC 25 News, “During the hurricane season which continues through the end of November, El Nino tends to increase wind shear across the Atlantic Basin. This helps suppress the development of tropical activity in the Atlantic. On the other hand, it can also lead to stronger hurricanes in the Pacific.” Experts say that El Niño typically peaks in late fall and winter, so it will be harsher during those times.

According to Jonathan Erdman via Weather.com, “T​he classic El Niño winter is rather warm from Alaska into western and central Canada and then into the northern tier of states from the Pacific Northwest to the western Great Lakes. It tends to be colder and wetter than average through much of the southern U.S., particularly from Texas to the Carolinas. We found that some cities in the Southwest, Southern Plains and mid-Atlantic have their snowiest winters during El Niño.”

El Niño can last around nine to 12 months, sometimes a few years. Experts say the current El Niño will likely continue through early 2024. 

The Way El Niño Affects the Impoverished

These drastic weather patterns can have life-altering effects on people living in poverty. A study even found that disease outbreaks became 2.5%-28% more intense during the 2015-2016 El Niño event. Studies have shown that El Niño affects the impoverished the most.

According to U.K.-based charity Save the Children, regions already experiencing multiple crises will feel the effects of El Niño the most. It revealed the forecasts of below-average rainfall in El Salvador and Guatemala, increased risk of landslides and flooding in Haiti and risk of flooding and food shortages in the Horn of Africa.

During previous El Niños, dramatically changing weather patterns have affected impoverished people the most. However, there are ways the more fortunate can help.


Save the Children has already compiled a list of what others can do to help impoverished families through this event. On the charity’s page discussing this issue, something brought up often is how international governments can assist these families during this time. A suggestion is that they can increase funding for early action, local and national responders, and commit to new climate finance. 

Save the Children is also actively working to prepare for the effects of El Niño. On top of monitoring potential risks across regions, it is “building and strengthening social protection systems to mitigate the worst socio-economic knock-on effects,” according to its website. 

Brianna Leonard
Photo: Flickr

Rift Valley FeverIn 1999, NASA scientists theorized that at some point soon, they would have the ability to track outbreaks (via satellite) of Rift Valley fever (RVF). This disease is deadly to livestock and occasionally, humans, in East Africa. They already knew the method needed but did not yet have enough data. NASA scientists had already surmised that outbreaks were directly related to El Niño weather events and knew that areas with more vegetation would breed more disease-carrying mosquitoes. To see the exact areas that would be most at-risk, satellites would need to track differences in the color and density of vegetation, from year to year.

Prediction of Rift Valley Fever

In 2006, NASA scientists predicted and tracked an outbreak of Rift Valley fever in East Africa. Unfortunately, even with intervention efforts, the 2006 outbreak led to the deaths of more than 500 people and cost the regional economy more than $60 million. This was due to export restrictions as well as livestock deaths. However, the aim of researchers was not to entirely stop that outbreak. The results of that mission gave researchers confidence that they could predict the next outbreak even better the next time.

Ten years later, the NASA team successfully predicted the location of the next potential outbreak and warned the Kenyan government before the disease could strike. Thanks to the combined efforts of NASA and the Kenyan government, Kenya saw no outbreak of Rift Valley fever in 2016. This, in turn, saved the country millions of dollars and protected the lives and livelihoods of rural farmers, throughout the country.

Focus on Cholera

With the success of Rift Valley fever prediction in 2006, NASA researchers became confident they may predict all disease outbreaks. Moreover, they believed they could halt them, using satellite technology. Researchers are especially focused on neglected diseases like cholera which are connected to environmental conditions and hit developing countries and impoverished people the hardest. Newer satellites add the ability to measure variables like temperature and rainfall. This enables researchers to use more than just the visual data, used in the initial Rift Valley fever predictions. Consequently, this significantly improves their models.

Cholera is perhaps the most promising disease, analyzed by new scientific models due to its scale. Nearly 3 million people contract and almost 100,000, die each year. Moreover, it spread directly links to weather events. There are two distinct forms of cholera, endemic and epidemic. Endemic cholera is present in bodies of water primarily during the dry season. Also, communities living along coasts are typically ready for the disease. Epidemic cholera comes about during extreme weather events like floods and inland communities are often unprepared for the disease. Both forms of the disease proved to be perfect candidates for modeling by disease researchers. In 2013, a NASA team successfully modeled cholera outbreaks in Bangladesh.

The Yemen Model

The real test of the NASA team’s predictive models would come in 2017. The use of the model in Yemen proved to work near perfectly. Researchers predicted exactly where the outbreaks would occur, nearly a full month in advance. The success of the model in impoverished and war-torn Yemen is especially notable. This is because it could mean less of a need for more expensive and dangerous methods of disease research. Instead, early warning systems are an implementable option. Even if they fail, medical professionals can send vaccines and medications to exactly the right locations. Cholera outbreaks and their disproportionate death rates among the global poor will hopefully soon be a thing of the past.

By halting outbreaks before they begin, international aid lends itself more efficiently. Information is valuable and the more information poverty-fighting organizations have, the better they can spend their dollars to maximize utility and help the most people. As satellite technology advances along with newer predictive models, preventing disease outbreaks could save developing economies and aid organizations hundreds of millions of dollars each year, along with thousands of lives.

Jeff Keare
Photo: Flickr

effects of el nino
The 2015-2016 El Nino climate pattern was one of the most extreme occurrences in years, affecting almost 60 million people, more than half of whom live in Africa. The effects of El Nino created extreme weather changes, ranging from severe drought to severe flooding. These changes posed drastic problems for the population. Drought caused food insecurity and poverty due to crop failure, and flooding created problems with sanitation and increased the spread of water-borne and communicable diseases. Furthermore, flooding threatened infrastructure and housing. The damage also restricted access to healthcare facilities, preventing victims from receiving the help they need.

The Effects of El Nino on Africa

In Southern Africa, El Nino-related droughts had led to massive crop failure. South Africa had a 25 percent drop in maize and a 23 percent drop in grain production. Maize prices were the highest they had ever been following the drop. The drought aggravated the existing food insecurity, with 14 million people already hungry and as crop failure continued, the number of people at risk of hunger increased.

Most El Nino effects are related to soil dryness or reduced rainfall, but in 2016, this occurrence resulted in a massive drought. In Cambodia, 2.5 million people were left without access to clean water. People had to travel long distances in search of clean and drinkable water after the wells and ponds had dried up. In South Africa, parts of Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia, these effects of El Nino are still posing problems. In past years, most food production decreases have corresponded to El Nino, regardless of its magnitude.

The Effects of El Nino on South-East Asia

South-East Asia faced droughts and below-average rainfall as well. Thailand had faced its most severe drought in 20 years during the 2015-2016 El Nino. Water levels in dams throughout the country fell below 10 percent, leading to Thailand pumping water from nearby rivers. The Mae Jok Luang Reservoir, for example, typically served 11 sectors and can now, as a result of El Nino, can only serve one.

The droughts hit farmers hard, causing mass crop failure. Rice production and exports especially had gone down in Thailand. Consequently, many farmers found themselves in debt and unable to pay back loans. To deal with financial stress, many Filipino farmers started sending their children into town to work instead of going to school. Indigenous farmers turned to odd jobs as well, giving up on trying to farm in the drought.

The Effects of El Nino on Latin America

Effects of El Nino on Latin America often vary, and in 2016, there were droughts in Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, Central America as well as floods in Argentina and parts of Peru and Chile. Areas like Brazil had an increase in wildfires and tropical storms as a result of El Nino. Similar to South-East Asia, farming and fishing industries faced decreased production and exports during El Nino.

This was not the first time that El Nino has harmed the health and population of South American fisheries. The 1972 El Nino played a major role in the collapse of the Peruvian fishery, the largest fishery in the world at the time. With less fish, the population of seabirds also decreased, which damaged the seabird-dependent fertilizer industry. The impact on agricultural production led to higher food prices and lower food availability.

As a result of El Nino, 2.3 million people in Central America needed food assistance in 2015-16. The weather conditions also posed a great threat to civilians. Peru declared a state of emergency in 14 provinces where the lives of two million people had been at risk of mudslides and flooding. In October 2015, 500 people in Guatemala City died because of widespread mudslides.

Aid for Countries Affected by El Nino

Fortunately, there are organizations working to combat the effects of El Nino. Care, a nongovernmental organization, for example, has distributed food and emergency supplies to drought-ridden countries. In Cambodia, Care distributed water tanks and filters to the most affected areas. They had continued aid well into 2017.

While the work of organizations like Care is valuable, long-term plans to combat general climate change is necessary for countries to prepare for future climate change events. The results and effects of global warming and weather changes can be felt throughout the whole world, and the countries that suffer the most are usually less developed ones that do not have the right tools to combat this issue. People need to start taking climate issues seriously before it becomes too late to recover from these effects.

– Massarath Fatima

Photo: Flickr

Resilience and Readiness: Preparing for Natural Disasters in Myanmar
Over the past 20 years, 139,515 deaths have resulted from natural disasters in Myanmar. Myanmar has experienced more of these fatalities than almost every other nation, with the exceptions of Haiti and Indonesia. In order to better prepare for and combat future consequences of natural disasters, Myanmar is working to improve its disaster training and community resilience practices.

The aftermath of natural disasters takes a toll on any nation but is generally worse in low-income nations. Myanmar’s floods in summer 2015, for example, caused 132 deaths, destroyed 1.2 million acres of rice and resulted in economic losses equaling 3.1 percent of the country’s GDP. Another 400,000 lives were disrupted by flooding in summer 2016, with additional damages to 400,000 acres of paddy fields. Such frequent and widespread damages necessitate policies of prevention, rather than reaction.

Myanmar has committed to a region-wide funding system to promote disaster preparedness. The fund “is an expression of the solidarity shared within the region, as well as recognition that preparedness is less costly than response,” said Poonam Khetrepal Singh, the U.N. World Health Organization’s director for the Southeast Asia Region. This funding will allow Myanmar and other Southeast Asian countries to invest in the infrastructure and human resources needed to improve disaster preparedness.

Recent conferences and training seminars have further sought to change the attitude of response to one of prevention. Training has been conducted through the Adaptation Fund’s project entitled, “Addressing Climate Change Risks on Water Resources and Food Security in the Dry Zone of Myanmar.”

This project seeks to enhance disaster preparedness through community-based prevention practices. Protecting against the effects of natural disasters in Myanmar is also embedded in the Constitution, and Parliament has discussed and approved prevention plans for the 2016 El Niño heatwave. Integrating this narrative into legislation presents a genuine commitment to institutionalizing preventative measures.

Preparation for natural disasters in Myanmar is especially important in the country’s Dry Zone. Plagued by scarce water, thin vegetation cover, severely eroded soil and chronic poverty, residents are very limited in their livelihood opportunities. By taking preventative measures to enhance development and minimize the risks of future disasters, the Adaptation Fund’s project and other resilience-oriented training prove dedication to mitigating disaster-related effects.

The International Day for Disaster Reduction, observed this year on Oct. 13, marked a call for collaboration on disaster preparedness and reduction. In his 2016 message, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon encouraged governments and civil society members to work together towards the common goal of risk reduction. The pursuit of disaster training and community resilience shows a commitment to proactive climate action and changing attitudes of disaster response to disaster prevention.

McKenna Lux

Photo: Flickr

El NinoThe U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) will contribute $127 million in humanitarian aid to Southern Africa to combat the effects of El Nino in the region. Funding from the U.N. and NGO partners will go to Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Madagascar, Swaziland and Zimbabwe to combat drought and rebuild the region.

El Nino is the warming of the Equatorial Pacific that leads to increased rainfall in some areas and drought in others. USAID reports indicate that the funding will address the many needs of those harmed by the long-lasting effects of the phenomenon. These needs include health support, food assistance and treatment for people with HIV.

USAID also aims to provide Southern Africa with improved health, food and agricultural aid. However, Southern African countries still appealed for $2.8 billion to feed the millions of people affected by the drought.

The gap between what the region needs and what other nations have promised is not enough, especially since the number of those in need will increase as food becomes more scarce.

South African countries are not the only ones facing harm from El Nino. According to The Guardian, many countries in five continents are in states of emergency and are dealing with food insecurity. For example, Central America is suffering from the worst drought in decades.

El Nino will only become more difficult to predict, and could even double in its frequency over the next few decades due to human-induced climate change. An international effort to aid nations dealing with the consequences of the weather cycle is necessary, especially from those nations that have contributed the most to carbon emissions.

Communities impacted by El Nino need more resilience to help them combat the ever-evolving phenomenon. Increased humanitarian aid from USAID and international programs will help those struggling through El Nino deal with the unpredictable future.

Addie Pazzynski

Photo: Flickr

Dry CorridorClimate change and El Niño have left 3.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in Central America’s “Dry Corridor,” according to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras are experiencing extensive deforestation and soil degradation, exacerbated by the drought that has tormented these three dry corridor countries since 2014.

El Niño warms the Pacific Ocean’s surface, creating a hotter and drier environment. The effects of El Niño have only been exasperated by climate change, which causes longer dry spells and more frequent flooding.

While the changing environment presents detrimental challenges to those living in the Dry Corridor, the pre-existing states of poverty and hunger contribute to the problem. Out of the 10.5 million people living in the Dry Corridor, 60 percent are living in poverty, according to IFAD.

Small-scale farmers and rural areas are the first to feel the effects of the drought. With the decrease in crop production comes the risks of reduced dietary diversity, increased hunger among the poor, as well as a rise in malnutrition. There has been a 50 to 90 percent loss of crop harvests and 1.6 million people are food insecure, said FAO, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N.

The United Nations held a meeting on June 30 at the Rome FAO headquarters to discuss the drought in Central America. Various U.N. organizations are training farmers to adapt to climate change and strengthen their food security. Farmers need support planting trees, creating more efficient irrigation systems, advancing rainwater harvesting and growing drought-resistant crops over shorter periods.

FAO is implementing risk prevention methods to help combat the impact of the drought. They are creating early disaster warning systems and assisting national and local abilities in risk management. FAO is also aiding farmers with agricultural rehabilitation and providing seeds for drought-resistant crops.

IFAD is training farmers in El Salvador to improve soil water conservation while helping them to build water-collecting structures. In addition, they are providing communities with the tools to improve basic household functions, like energy efficient stoves and low flow latrines.

The World Food Program (WFP) is distributing Super Cereal Plus to suffering communities in Honduras. The food supplement is enriched with nutrients and vitamins, to help children under five who are in danger of malnutrition. WFP is also giving aid to 600,000 families that are struggling with hunger until the end of August 2016.

Despite these efforts, there is currently a $17 million funding gap in humanitarian aid for countries in the Dry Corridor, according to FAO. An urgent response by the international community is necessary to continue to help small-scale farmers and people living in poverty survive the effects of El Niño and climate change.

Erica Rawles

Photo: Flickr

Poverty_AidThe 2015-2016 El Niño was only the third ‘Super’ El Niño in recorded history. Experts fear this event’s impacts may have been further worsened by global warming. Those impacts have fallen disproportionately on some of the most impoverished areas of the world, and aid is needed to address the El Niño environmental poverty crisis now affecting millions of people.

El Niño, an array of global changes in climate patterns due to the warming of surface waters in the Equatorial Pacific, is not an uncommon event. Typically it is expected every three to seven years. However, the 2015-2016 El Niño produced record-level climate events, unprecedented even in an El Niño year.

In the 2015 northern Pacific hurricane season 25 level four and five hurricanes developed. The previous annual record was only 18. Meanwhile, Eastern Africa is experiencing its worst drought in 60 years. Globally, 2015 temperatures were at a record high resulting in El Niño and global warming pushing climate patterns in the same direction.

El Niño has had a dire impact on the global poor, with many of the hardest hit areas having insufficient infrastructure to confront the damage. Oxfam notes that the current El Niño cycle has placed 60 million people in danger of hunger.

While the climate changes associated with El Niño are fading as it comes to an end, the livelihood-related damage it has caused continues to wreak havoc on the security of impoverished communities.

In areas like Eastern Africa, the failure of crops and the death of cattle will require substantial recovery efforts. As wells go dry, it is not uncommon for drought-displaced families to spend months on end sleeping on the floor of relief centers.

The El Niño environmental poverty crisis reaches across the globe.  Environmental poverty as a result of drought has put 1.5 million Guatemalans in need of food assistance. 3.5 million people are struggling for food in Haiti, where El Niño amplified the preexisting conditions of a 2014 drought. 15 percent of the population in Honduras and three million in Papua New Guinea are at risk for the same reason.

With these figures representing a mere fraction of the countries and communities suffering due to El Niño, the need for support is expansive. Thankfully, significant action is being taken by the international community and significant aid is being mobilized.

The European Union has contributed 125 milllion euros to areas affected by El Niño, dispersing the aid throughout Africa, Central and South America and the Caribbean. This record-breaking contribution from the EU towards the El Niño crises will fund emergency actions.

USAID has relied on early tracking of El Niño-related crises to make their relief actions as effective as possible. They are using in place mechanisms designed to push emergency funds into relevant development programs, while also adjusting existing development programs to accelerate recovery. USAID is focusing their humanitarian aid on the most affected areas, addressing, and often mitigating disaster.

Finally, technological aid has also been a source of relief. Partnerships like UNICEF and the Ethiopian government have allowed satellite technology to be implemented to better locate well-sites and map drought-affected areas.

The combination of technological, financial, and humanitarian aid has been instrumental in addressing the environmental poverty spurred by the 2015-2016 Super El Niño. While these environmental conditions have been disproportionately destructive to the poor, these mechanisms continue to work to mitigate the effects of the El Niño environmental poverty crisis.

Charlotte Bellomy

Photo: Flickr