Daily Management Review

4 Million People in the Pacific Region in Danger as El Nino Worsens


4 Million People in the Pacific Region in Danger as El Nino Worsens
The growing threat of El Nino would possibly leave more than four million people across the Pacific without enough food or clean water.
Indications of it came when two dozen people have already died from hunger and drinking contaminated water in drought-stricken Papua New Guinea.
Researchers claim that the condition of El Nino this year is as bad as the in 1997-98 when an estimatred 23,000 people died. El Nino is a weather pattern that is created when waters in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean become warmer, driving extreme weather conditions.
A prolonged drought has been exacerbated by sudden and severe frosts which have killed off almost all crops In Papua New Guinea’s Chimbu province in the highlands region. The death of 24 people from starvation and drinking contaminated water was confirmed by the provincial disaster centre.
The toll in Papua New Guinea could be higher, fears Michael Ire Appa, Provincial disaster co-ordinator.
“The drought has been here for almost three months now and in areas that were affected by the drought there’s a serious food shortage, including water, and some of the districts have not reported, so there may be more [deaths] than that,” he said to local media.
A state of emergency has already been declared in two highlands provinces.
Many parts of PNG would run out of food in two or three months, but in some areas there was as little as a month’s food left, and few ways to get more in, said Dr Simon Bradshaw, Oxfam Australia’s climate change policy advisor.
 “In the highland areas people are almost exclusively reliant on subsistence farming, farming of sweet potatoes. We do know that water is becoming very scarce, that’s of course impacting food production, and PNG is almost entirely dependent on its own food – I think 83% of its food is produced in-country – so any hit on food production poses immediate challenges in terms of food security," he said. 

More rain, flooding and higher sea levels is anticipated to be bright in by El Nino in the coming months to countries near the equator and there would be significant risk of inundation for low-lying atolls already feeling the impacts of climate change.

However there would, at the same time, be dry and hotter weather in the countries of the Pacific south-west, which have larger populations.

El Niño years typically have a longer, more destructive cyclone season.

“El Niño has the potential to trigger a regional humanitarian emergency and we estimate as many as 4.1 million people are at risk from water shortages, food insecurity and disease across the Pacific,” says Sune Gudnitz, head of the Pacific region office of the United Naitons Office for the Coordinaiton of Humanitarian Affairs. 

“Countries including Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Tonga and the Solomon Islands are already feeling El Niño’s impact with reduced rainfall affecting crops and drinking-water supplies. Drought conditions would further complicate the humanitarian situation in countries that are just emerging from the devastation caused by tropical cyclones Pam, Maysak and Raquel,” Gudnitz said.

“With an El Niño event, you usually get about one-fifth less rainfall across the country as well as significant changes to the timing of the rainy season, a lot more rain concentrated in January, and that, combined with deforestation, increases the risk of landslides, flash floods, damage to infrastructure and destruction of crops. Timor Leste is somewhere we’re watching particularly closely because of the existing challenges, and the effect the El Niño will have on top of that,” Gunditz added.