El Niño threat to the Pacific

The community of Port Villa, Vanuatu, was already hit hard this year by Cyclone Pam, and the El Nino weather phenomenon poses a new threat. (Photo: Sean Hobbs/Secretariat of the Pacific Community)
By Andy McElroy

Suva, FIJI, 23 October 2015 – A high level disaster resilience forum in the Pacific next week will have added importance as concerns grow over the potential impact on the region of this year’s El Niño.

The head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), Ms Margareta Wahlström, will join hundreds of policymakers, partners and various experts for the Pacific Regional Disaster Resilience Meeting ahead of what could be a season of severe drought and cyclones.

A report from the Pacific Disaster Center says: “A strong El Niño is currently in place with wide and varying impacts across the Pacific Islands region … El Niño is likely to be at its maximum strength towards the end of 2015, but will remain in place into the first half of 2016.”

The report issued at the first Pacific Island Climate Outlook Forum held earlier this month at the University of the South Pacific warns that the risk of a typhoon in the western and central north Pacific is above normal for the rest of the year while in the southwest Pacific tropical cyclone activity is expected to be above normal for the 2015-2016 season.

According to the report, “Historically, El Niño has caused reduced rainfall in the southwest Pacific (from southern Papua New Guinea southeast to the southern Cook Islands) and enhanced rainfall in the central and eastern Pacific (e.g. Tuvalu, Kiribati, Tokelau and Nauru).” Paradoxically, drier than normal conditions are already being experienced in parts of the southwest Pacific and north Pacific with fears of a prolonged drought in the year ahead.

The Pacific Regional Disaster Resilience Meeting will focus on the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the global blueprint for achieving a substantial reduction in disaster losses, adopted earlier this year at a UN World Conference in Sendai, Japan. The 15-year, voluntary, non-binding agreement recognizes that the State has the primary role to reduce disaster risk but also emphasizes the sharing of responsibilities with other stakeholders, including many who will be represented at the Pacific meeting.

“This will be a first opportunity for the region to examine how to implement the Sendai Framework,” said the Head of the Pacific office of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), Mr. Timothy Wilcox. “The Pacific is well-placed to take a lead on showing the importance of being able to manage disaster risk as opposed to simply focusing on disaster response. A lot of good solutions will be shared in the coming week.”

The Pacific Regional Disaster Resilience Meeting begins a series of forums that includes the Pacific Humanitarian Partnership Meeting co-hosted by the UN Resident Coordinator and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Next Friday, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community will host a meeting of the Regional Steering Committee for the Building of Safety and Resilience in the Pacific.

Several disaster resilience-related initiatives are underway in the Pacific.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has just completed a two-day training in Disaster Law to strengthen the ‘legal preparedness’ of Pacific countries for dealing with disasters.
Regional Platforms for Disaster Risk Reduction take place from Africa to the Pacific Regional Platforms for Disaster Risk Reduction take place from Africa to the Pacific.
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