BOULDER--Now is the time for vulnerable countries around the globe to begin preparing for the next El Nino, according to a United Nations (UN) preliminary report issued today. The report presents the results of a 19-month study of 16 countries that examined what worked and what didn't in national responses to the forecasts and impacts of the 1997-98 El Nino. Dubbed the "El Nino of the Century," that event's worldwide impacts took hundreds of lives and left behind at least $32 billion in damages. The report suggests ways to improve societal responses to extreme climate events.
"The 1997-98 event was a wake-up call," says the study's principal investigator, Michael Glantz, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). "Awareness of what El Nino can do to societies and economies is now high." Between El Nino events is the best time to improve understanding of the phenomenon and devise ways to better cope with its potential direct and indirect effects, he adds. The 1997-98 El Nino spawned droughts, floods, fires, and frost around the world, resulting in loss of life, destruction of infrastructure, depletion of food and water reserves, displacement of communities, and outbreaks of disease.
In spring 1999 the UN Environment Programme received a $650,000 UN Foundation grant to organize the El Nino study, requested by the UN General Assembly. UNEP and NCAR took the lead, working closely with UN partners--the World Meteorological Organization, International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, and UN University. NCAR's primary sponsor is the National Science Foundation.
A study team was established for each of the 16 countries to assess
its response to the 1997-98 El Nino forecast. Participating nations
are Bangladesh, China, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Fiji,
Indonesia, Kenya, Mozambique, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay,
Peru, the Philippines, and Vietnam. A full summary report and the
complete 16-country study, to be publish
National Center for Atmospheric Research/University Corporation for Atmospheric Research