KitoOnlus Blog

El Niño: what is it?

Everybody knows it as El Niño, and it was expected to arrive in 2014. Nonetheless, its first signs were announced only in March, 2015. First of all, it is worth specifying that its name is associated to Christ child in Spanish, due to the fact that usually it arrives during the Christmas period, and it was originally recognized by fishermen off the coast of South America who noticed a higher temperature of the water. In fact, it is a climatic phenomenon that is linked to the Pacific Ocean warming and can happen every 2 to 7 years and its presence can lasts between 9 to 12 months (click here to know how it works!). Usually, it takes place along the Pacific costs of America and in the South East Asia, but its effects are also able to reach Africa.

Thus, what now we should wonder is: why is El Niño so important? Even if it is very common to hear of it, to know what it exactly causes might seem hard. Unfortunately, its reputation is definitely not positive, since hunger, droughts, floods and cyclones are the most common El Niño’s side effects. Between 1997 and 1998, when one of the stronger El Niño was recorded, consequences were disastrous. For instance, according to PEGASA, 68% of the Philippines experienced droughts, which triggered a decline in rice and corn production respectively of 27% and 44%. Water shortages were widespread, and forest fires destroyed 9,400 hectares of natural forests.

This year, El Niño is expected to be one of the strongest to occur in history, and what would make the phenomenon more dangerous is climate change, which increases El Niño’s impact. In fact, droughts and floods may be more intense, forcing the interested countries to face very serious losses in terms of agriculture and fishing. It would be particularly risky for those communities living off these activities, such as several Filipino ones.

Another side of the coin is definitely the worrying probability that it will create typhoons, cyclones and hurricanes in the Pacific, as it was the case of hurricane Patricia which mainly hit Central America.

To conclude, El Niño is a climatic phenomenon that has always existed, but because of climate change it is getting worse. This is why this issue has to be tackled internationally, and we hope that it will be one of the topics rising during the COP 21, the Paris Climate Change Conference, which is going to start on the 30th of November.