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

Are Natural Disasters Getting Worse?According to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, the amount of flood and storm catastrophes have risen by 7.4 percent annually in recent decades. With reports of excessive weather damage constantly in the news, it is important to ask: Are natural disasters getting worse? 

By definition, natural disasters are any form of catastrophic events induced by nature or natural activities of the Earth. Some examples include earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, droughts, tsunamis and tornadoes. The severity of such disasters is typically measured by the number of deaths, economic loss and the nation’s capacity to rebuild.

Many natural disasters are beyond human control. The constant motion of Earth’s tectonic plates initiates earthquakes and tsunamis. Fluctuation in solar radiation infiltrating the atmosphere and oceans give rise to storms in the summer and blizzards in the winter.

However, sometimes natural disasters aren’t so natural and are caused by humanity’s interference with the Earth’s system.

For example, as environmental pollution increases, humans are contributing more energy to the system; which strengthens the likelihood of repeated hazards such as flash floods, bushfires, heatwaves and tropical cyclones. 

So are natural disasters getting worse? The answer is yes. The number of geophysical disasters on Earth’s surface, like earthquakes, landslides and volcano eruptions, have remained steady since the 1970s. But the number of climate-related catastrophes has vastly increased. The amount of damage done to the economy due to these catastrophes has seen a steady upsurge.

There were triple the number of natural disasters between 2000 to 2009 as the number that occurred between 1980 to 1989. A large majority, 80 percent, of this growth is caused by climate-related happenings.

It may no longer be important to ask: Are natural disasters getting worse? But instead: Why are natural catastrophes getting worse?

The scale of disasters has swelled due to higher rates of urbanization, deforestation, environmental degradation and escalating climatic elements like high temperatures, extreme rain and snow and more brutal wind and water storms.

Dangerous events do not need to result in a tragedy. Limiting vulnerability and increasing the ability to respond to these disasters can save lives. Additionally, the continuous evolution of science and technology is making it more possible to anticipate disasters, provide aid quicker and allow for the rebuilding of cities in safer areas.

– Zainab Adebayo

Photo: Flickr

Mozambican Adaptation ProjectMozambique has seen the capabilities of climate change first-hand. Rainwater from northern watersheds often cause massive floods that destroys the property of 22 million Mozambicans living on the coast. Seasonal rains, cyclones and tropical storms also pose threats to inhabitants of the coastline. Heavy rains often disrupt the energy supply in Northern Mozambique. Cyclones bring strong winds, torrential rains, and storms that cause landslides, coastal and inland erosion.

As a result of climate change, rainfall becomes unpredictable, and extreme weather occurrences like drought that occur every three to four years become more frequent. Flooding and cyclones threaten the health and economic stability of many Mozambicans. In 2015, flooding affected 160,000 people, displaced 50,000 and killed 159 in central and northern Mozambique. Furthermore, the country suffered great economic damage to infrastructure, as flooding collapsed roads and bridges.

Mozambique’s mangrove forest in Bon Sinais River, Icidua, Quelimane has completely flattened out as locals use the trees for building and fuel, and the clear space for harvesting salt. Mangroves protect communities that have improperly built homes that are incapable of withstanding strong winds.

USAID funded the Mozambican adaptation project by equipping five municipalities: Pemba, Quelimane, Nacala, Mozambique Island and Mocimboa de Praia. Throughout the next few years, the Coastal City Adaptation Project (CCAP) will see more than 200,000 mangrove trees planted on 37 acres in Icidua, resulting in decreased erosion and flood prevention and an increase in fishing.

Pemba, Mozambique has witnessed the heaviest rainfall in 40 years destroy the homes of its community. The Mozambican adaptation project will commence dune restoration and a phone-based early warning system that allows communities to quickly learn about and prepare for disaster. This emergency response system will prevent flooding damages that have previously destroyed the homes and taken the lives of many.

If the Mozambican adaptation project cannot combat climate change, by 2075 semi-arid and arid areas can expect a 2-3 percent increase in solar radiation and a 9-13 percent increase in evapotranspiration. Mozambique will see an overall 2-9 percent decrease in precipitation and a 5-15 percent decrease in precipitation during the rainy season from November to May.

Tiffany Santos

Photo: Flickr

While natural disasters always leave devastation in their paths, the recovery is always harder for the world’s poor. The countries with the most hurricanes are, in increasing order, Cuba, Madagascar, Vietnam, Taiwan, Australia, the U.S., Mexico, Japan, the Philippines and China.

The storms may be unbiased when they hit, but the work to recover is nowhere near equal. This is why it is detrimental that the countries with the most hurricanes are also those with the least amount of preparation for them. This is evident because of events such as Hurricane Matthew. Although it created damage to the southeastern portion of the U.S., the devastation in Haiti was unparalleled.

Between 1996 and 2015, more than a million people were killed by natural disasters. Ninety percent of the deaths occurred in low and medium income countries.

In countries such as the Philippines, which can expect between eight and nine hurricanes a year, the population isn’t prepared for the devastation these storms bring. The majority live in homes that are weakly constructed and do not stand a chance against nature’s wrath. With a population of 96 million, of whom 19.2 percent fall below the poverty line, it is impossible to recover from one storm before the next strikes.

Behind Mexico’s brightly decorated resorts and tourist destinations, there is a population of more than 40 percent living in poverty. Although preventive measures lessened the blow from Hurricane Patricia in 2015, the nation is still recovering from its wake.

Global organizations are quick to respond to disasters all over the world. The U.N. and the Red Cross work to have people on the ground in the affected country immediately.

UNICEF takes the preventative path to these problems and works with some of the countries with the most hurricanes to improve emergency response strategies and prepare them for the natural disasters that are sure to come.

The organization also works to develop indications for the decision-makers in the least developed countries to follow when assessing the needs of children during disasters.

Emily Trosclair

Photo: Flickr

Weather Prediction Technology
By 2020, 8.5 billion people will reside in developing countries. This reality dictates food security as a critical component of agricultural planning to support this burgeoning population.

With nearly 100 countries lacking early warning systems for weather patterns, the developing world cannot protect crop yields to feed a growing world. While increased food production is an important part of the puzzle, improved food security measures are the missing link.

India’s AgriMet Department of the Indian Meteorological Department is helping to solve this problem by sharing weather prediction technology and satellite data with Bhutan and seven other developing countries including Tanzania, Papua New Guinea, Moldova, Dominica, Peru, Colombia and Burkina Faso.

Within India’s system, weather advisories are sent via text and voice message to registered farmers. Registration is free and participating farmers have reported increased income. Indian scientists also plan to assist other countries in developing their own models for weather forecasting.

This comes on the heels of a warning from the World Meteorological Organization in March 2016 on World Meteorological Day. The initiative titled, “Hotter, drier, wetter. Face the Future,” recognizes 2015 as the hottest year on record and warning that these trends will continue for the next 50 years making weather prediction technology critical in the developing world.

Droughts, flooding, cyclones and heavy rain hit developing countries harder due to lack of preparation and time to evacuate. The effects of weather events are often cumulative in poor populations, making bad situations worse each time a new event occurs.

Global partnerships in weather prediction are a cost-effective way to address weather forecasting but are difficult to manage when a weather event threatens a smaller region. Global systems can also be more difficult for small, poor countries to access due to issues such as slow internet connections.

This makes regional partnerships for weather events a logical next step in forecasting due to closer proximity and easier methods of accessing a weather warning.

The goal for Bhutan and other developing countries is the implementation of long-range weather prediction technology and use of cost-effective toolkits such as rain gauges and measuring tools for soil moisture. While India will provide training and skills in this project, countries such as Canada and Norway will assist with grant funding to set up the weather station.

Mandy Otis

Photo: Flickr

New Story
Hurricane Matthew killed 1,000 people and left 60,000 suddenly homeless. The New York Times reports that in one Haitian city alone, 80 percent of buildings were desolated. In the face of the worst natural disaster since the 2010 earthquake, one has to wonder if there is anything positive to be found among the pain in this devastated country. That’s where New Story comes in. New Story is a non-profit that has built 211 homes in Haiti, all of which survived Hurricane Matthew.

Every single house stood resistant to the category four storm. CEO Brett Hagler updated supporters the day after the hurricane saying, “People […] were bringing in other folks from the tents to take refuge in the homes last night during the hurricane, which is amazing and a testament to the durability of these homes.”

Hypepotamus reports that New Story was founded in 2014 on a mission to build homes for Haitian people in need. Hagler and Mike Arrieta compiled a strong Atlanta based team, successful in leveraging technology for social good as they built two new homes within their first three months of existence. Hagler explains, “We are trying to solve two problems — life-threatening homelessness and the status quo of traditional charity.”

The process begins with the recognition that homes are the foundation: without a stable place to live, families cannot focus on education, income or set hopeful goals for the future. The next step is to work with locals.

Every economy New Story interacts with is stimulated by the process through partnering with nonprofits and utilizing resources already present in the countries where they are building. Their website states, “through our partners, we learn in months what it would take years to understand if we tried to enter new communities independently.”

The key word there is “communities.” Instead of focusing only on individual homes, this organization builds entire communities so as to form strong and lasting places for people to live. They believe a home is more than four walls and are committed to gathering data to ensure that the next is even better than the last.

They challenge the status quo of traditional charity by proving that 100 percent of their donations go toward building homes. Each home costs only $6,000 to build and donors can start a crowdsourcing fund to raise every dollar, or they can give as little as the amount of cash in their pocket.

No matter how much money a donor gives, every single one is connected through video with the exact family whose house they helped to build. This transparency gives visual representation of that which is abstract for donations to so many other nonprofits. “Now going forward there’s obviously a lot of recovery to do […] and we think this hurricane just punctuates our belief that everyone deserves a safe home,” said Hagler.

With 100 percent of donations directly helping families, communities and larger economies, this nonprofit is an incredible example of work that is effective and strong even in the face of 140 mile-per-hour winds. There is a new story being told, in Haiti and beyond, and the question remaining is how each of us will help to write it.

Rebecca Causey

Photo: Flickr

Flood ForecastingThe Federal Ministry of Agriculture together with the Rural Development and the International Water Management Institute in Abuja have launched a mobile application, called “Wetin App” in order to provide citizens with the capability of flood forecasting in Niger and Benue rivers. The mobile application for flood forecasting which will be available through Google App Store has been launched due to the catastrophic flood that occurred in 2012 in Nigeria and caused a massive destruction of houses, farms and human lives.

According to VOA News, “The “WetIn app” is free to download for Android phones and gives users in three flood-prone Nigerian states advanced notice when an inundation is expected.” The application that aims to focus on three Nigerian states, Kogi, Benue and Anambra, will help residents and farmers protect their belongings, their crops and evacuate the region if it is needed.

The smartphone application was developed based on a collection of data from the Nigerian Hydrological Service Agency (NHSA), the satellite and finally the Nigerian Meteorological Agency.

According to Timothy Olalekan Williams, Africa director for the International Water Management Institute, the goal of the application is to provide four to five days in advance a significant warning about the height of the river. Hence, the government together with the disaster management agencies will be able to take precautionary measures.

In fact, according to the National Emergency Management Agency, in 2012, floods killed 363 people and displaced close to 4 million individuals. Due to the 2012 floods, a total of 1,337,450 houses were destroyed, of which the 73 percent consisted of traditional Nigerian dwellings. As an illustration, some houses are constructed with iron and low-cost materials, while others are made of mud, as well as bricks.

The 2012 Nigerian floods, which remain the worst in five decades, have affected the river Niger and the river Benue. The NHSA continues to warn individuals who live close to rivers in Nigeria to immediately relocate and find safer dwellings especially in light of continued climate change.

So far this year, 14 have been killed and 208 have been injured as a result floods. If there is a continuous rainfall, then the flooding experience will be the same as in 2012. The Nigerian Meteorological Agency plays a key role in alerting the news about upcoming floods via newspapers, radio and television. Smartphones also go a long way in helping to ensure access to this vital information.

In simple terms, among Nigeria’s activities for a proper flood risk management action plan, the mobile application for flood forecasting satisfies its emergent needs. It offers an early warning system that aims to strengthen people and make them act in a proactive way.

Eliza Karabetian-Nikotian

Photo: Flickr

On August 19, the U.S. committed to providing 35 million dollars in aid to Ethiopia after their devastating drought and recent floods. The announcement came from United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Ethiopia Mission Director, Leslie Reed, on World Humanitarian Day. Aid will go toward immediate humanitarian emergencies to help Ethiopia adapt to the threat of climate change and supporting the country’s developmental progress.

In 2015, Ethiopia was hit by the worst drought in decades. More than 10 million people were estimated to need humanitarian assistance, according to OXFAM. The severity of the drought was aggravated by El Niño, which periodically warms the Pacific region and affects climate patterns all over the world. The World Meteorological Organization reported that the current El Niño is one of the strongest recorded.

The drought has impacted 85 percent of Ethiopia’s population that engages in agricultural production. The dry spell destroyed farming livelihoods and escalated food prices, food insecurity and malnutrition.

Due to the effects of La Niña, flash flooding has caused further damage in Ethiopia. According to Ethiopia Drought Response Situation Report No. 3., there have been an increased number of cases of waterborne diseases due to poor sanitation and hygiene. The number of people displaced has reached 631,508, according to the report. While a portion of this number is due to conflict, 47 percent were displaced from March to June solely due to the floods.

On August 12, the Ethiopian government asked for $612 million for immediate food aid through December of 2016. Since October 2014, the U.S. has contributed 774 million dollars in aid to Ethiopia. The funds have provided clean drinking water, food for nutrition, malnutrition treatment and health services.

USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) was sent to Ethiopia in March 2016 and has been working with the Ethiopian government to provide technical assistance, administer humanitarian assessments and bring aid to Ethiopia. DART provided four million dollars worth of drought resilient seeds for 226,000 families to grow food.

Other international humanitarian organizations are also contributing to relief efforts. Concern Worldwide and Goal Global worked to stabilize Tigray, a region in northern Ethiopia severely impacted by the drought. The aid groups provided supplementary food to women and children experiencing malnutrition.

In order to withstand this ongoing emergency, Ethiopia will need support from the international community. Although El Niña rainfall is predicted to last through until December, the country will need support in adapting to the harsh effects of climate change in the future.

Erica Rawles

Photo: Flickr

El Nino

In response to the El Niño weather phenomenon, The Elders have asked that world leaders take initiative in filling the $2.5 billion gap in funding. This funding is necessary to alleviate the global effects of El Niño on poorer communities.

The Elders and their Cause

The Elders are a group of activists and advocates brought together by Nelson Mandela in 2007. They work together, using their influence and experience, to promote human rights, peace and justice on a global scale.

Their attention has turned toward the problem of human-induced climate change due to the effects of the El Niño weather event. This year brought the strongest El Niño yet, which led to numerous droughts and severe flooding in many areas.

While the weather pattern itself is over for the year, the aftermath is still very much present and widespread. A lack of water in many areas caused extensive crop loss and increased food prices.

Food shortages are running rampant in eastern and southern Africa as over 26 million children lack food security and 1 million suffer from severe malnutrition.

Food shortages, however, are not the only concern. El Niño also warms bodies of water, which in turn contributes to the spread of the Zika virus, a virus transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

All of the issues associated with El Niño could lead to mass migration as communities are forced out of their regions by uninhabitable weather and poor health conditions.

Aid Options

The Elders have recommended two steps that governments can take to aid victims of El Niño.

The first step is to financially assist governments of climate-vulnerable countries by developing contingency plans and creating safety measures in the event of another climate-related crisis.

The second step is to create and agree upon a “concrete road map” at the United Nations Climate Conference. This road map will hopefully lead to funding the $100 billion annual commitment to climate action in developing countries by the year 2020.

The current climate crisis requires immediate aid but The Elders believe that El Niño also needs a long-term response.

Kofi Annan, chair of The Elders, addressed the most recent El Niño event in a letter to all world leaders.

“I am confident that your country will play its part in ensuring that the world’s most vulnerable people are protected now and into the future,” said Annan.

This sentiment reverberates to those struggling through El Niño’s devastation and serves as a reminder that global solutions require global support.

Jordan R. Little

Photo: Flickr

west African Farmers
Swedish technology company and social enterprise Ignitia has teamed up with Business Call to Action (BCtA) to send tropical weather forecasts via text message to 1.2 million small-scale west African farmers by the end of 2017.

The BCtA is backed by the UNDP and encourages businesses to include poverty-level populations and help to achieve sustainable development goals.

Founded in 2010 as a physics and meteorologist research team, Ignitia offers weather forecasts to prepare west African farmers for inclement weather.

The company has since developed algorithms that provide weather forecasts to 3,400 small-scale farmers in Ghana – with an 82 percent level of accuracy, compared to the 39 percent standard, according to Ignitia .

Here’s how it works: Ignitia’s weather forecasts are reported through Iska as text messages and are sent directly to small-scale farmers throughout tropical regions. Each forecast is tailored to a specific farmer’s crop location via an automated application that finds its GPS coordinates.

Farmers receive these forecasts by subscribing to an SMS service for $0.04 per day that can be paid in installments or from pre-paid credit on a mobile phone. This equals less than two percent of a farmer’s total expenditures, according to The Guardian.


Iska offers warnings of heavy rains and dry spells, specific start and end dates for the rainy season and provides two-day forecasts to west African farmers daily, in addition to a monthly outlook report and two six-month seasonal reports.

About 40 percent of the world’s population lives in the tropics where most livelihoods come from small-scale farming, with sub-Saharan African farmers seeing the lowest yields in the world.

Since tropical weather conditions can change drastically in a short amount of time, monitoring crops can be a tricky task for farmers. Changes in weather patterns and the unpredictability of severe weather make traditional farming methodologies less dependable.

Iska’s short-mid and long-range forecast messaging offers these farmers a vital way of adapting to climate change. The Guardian reports that at least 20 percent of yields are lost due to weather, but meteorology updates like the ones Iska provides can help increase a farmer’s income by 80 percent.

In West Africa, Iska demonstrated an 84 percent accuracy rate during the 2013 and 2014 rainy seasons, according to Ignitia.

“With Iska, smallholder farmers receive the vital information they need to mitigate risk and create resilience. In doing so, farmers are able to increase yields and improve their livelihoods, year after year,” said Liisa Petrykowska, Ignitia’s chief executive officer.

Ignitia has provided over six million weather forecasts to 80,000 small-time African farmers and plans to expand its services to 20 other countries throughout Southeast Asia, Central America and other regions of Africa.

Kelsey Lay

Sources: Ignitia 1, Ignitia 2, Ignitia 3, The Guardian
Photo: Times Higher Education