UN official: Caribbean and other governments should prepare early for possible El Nino weather crises

By Nelson A. King

A United Nations relief official says La Niña is expected to affect weather around the world in 2018, and urged Caribbean and other governments and the international community to act early to mitigate the impacts from this potentially destructive weather pattern and its counterpart, El Niño.

“We know that the earlier we’re able to put in place a response, the more efficient and effective that response can be,” said Greg Puley, Chief of Policy Advice and Planning Section, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

El Niño is the term used to describe the warming of the central to eastern tropical Pacific that occurs, on average, every three to seven years, according to the UN.

It said El Niño raises sea surface temperatures and affects weather systems around the globe, “so that some places receive more rain while others receive none at all, often in a reversal of their usual weather pattern.”

Its counterpart, La Niña, is associated with cooler-than-average sea surface temperatures, but it also results in extreme weather, the UN said.

In 2016, the UN said 23 countries — representing 60 million people — had to appeal for emergency aid because of El Niño-related weather events.

While there is never 100 percent certainty that a weather event will happen, Puley urged governments “to be willing to act on the clues.”

“If you’re aware that excess precipitation is forecast, for example, you can make some investment to reinforce river beds, so that the excess precipitation doesn’t result in flooding,” he said.

“It will cost you $10 million to reinforce the river bed,” Puley added. “It might have cost you $50 million or $60 million to provide food, water and shelter to people who are displaced by the flood. You can make those investments when you know.”

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