Home » General » Avert El Nino Effects Now

THERE is a 70 percent chance El Nino will occur this year, scientists have predicted, but are uncertain on its strength, warnings coming several months in aance and long enough for farmers to prepare for a possible drought.

If the weather phenomenon strikes as forecast, the likelihood of significantly lower rainfall in Zimbabwe will be high, piling pressure on food security, high pests and increasing risk of disease.

In April, the Columbia University’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society released the predictions saying in other parts of the world like Indonesia, the chance for El Nino was as high as 80 percent.

However, the Institute was unsure of its impact on seasonal climates.

It said: “Although the odds for El Nino are increasing, it is still uncertain whether it will be a weak, moderate, or g El Nino.”

The IRI is a leader in global climate predictions and has been monitoring and forecasting El Nino for many years.

Put simply, El Nino occurs when the surface water of the Pacific Ocean warms up, altering rainfall patterns worldwide. Countries like Zimbabwe could experience droughts while others, particularly those in the tropics, may become very wet. New studies suggest that climate change will result in frequent, very g El Nino events in the future, possibly occurring once every decade.

El Nino usually strikes once every 7 years but the most extreme occur in 20 years. The El Nino “anomaly tends to persist for several months to a year or more (and) is one of the major sources of climate variability globally as it influences precipitation and temperatures.”

CAUTIOUS APPROACH

Local climate scientists are exercising caution on the IRI’s El Nino predictions.

“There is a general perception and fear that El Nino always translates into below normal rainfall conditions. This is not always true,” said Mr Elisha Moyo, senior meteorologist at the Meteorological Services Department in Harare.

Previous El Nino events in Zimbabwe have produced mixed outcomes. The one that hit between 1982 and 1983 resulted in a severe drought, with widespread ramifications on poverty and hunger. But “the most severe El Nino on record, 1997-98, had negligible effects on Zimbabwe,” said Mr Moyo, anchoring his argument on this event, but said “will continue to monitor the situation”.

El Nino’s relationship to Zimbabwe’s seasonal climate was “not linear” and, therefore, will not always lead to below normal rainfall.

“It is very possible for this usually slow-evolving state to change abruptly in as short a period as a month. It has happened before,” Mr Moyo stated.

“Their (IRI) forecast just like any other forecast needs to be understood and it is not recommended for the general public to read into their forecast without the relevant aisory and interpretation from the MSD as their impacts are not directly ensued.”

EARLY PREPARATION

While the MSD seems apprehensive of the El Nino likelihood, farmers and policymakers should not take chances.

If as Mr Moyo says that the phenomenon can “change abruptly,” then all the more reason to enhance preparedness in case of negative surprises.

The early warning provides farmers an opportunity to plan responsibly, to invest in crops and systems less vulnerable to rainfall variability.

Agri-business development expert, Mr Midway Bhunu warned of the risks of inaction.

“Early warning helps farmers, Government, key agriculture value chain players to plan or invest in mitigatory measures against unfavourable or harsh weather extremes such as El Nino,” he said.

“It is important for farmers and policy makers to know the extent of (possible) damage that it might cause as well as the expected time and duration of occurance so that we can look at alternatives.”

Worsening El Nino events will result in losses in the production of maize, Zimbabwe’s staple, which is produced mainly under rain-fed conditions.

Failure in maize will cause faults in the wider economy, giving rise to social and economic losses and distress.

Already, changes in the broader agriculture landscape have resulted in massive food shortages, forcing Government to import 150 000 tonnes of grain last year.

Following above-normal rains in the previous farming season, Zimbabwe’s harvest in the current year is expected to exceed two million metric tonnes, enough to feed the country for a year.

El Nino threatens a repeat of such a feat, occuring after many years of failure. Disaster preparedness in the country is generally poor, but the current predictions have come very early, giving everyone time to prepare and plan, accordingly.

Mr Moyo said due to the increased risk of below-normal total seasonal rainfall during El Nino years, below normal rainfall activities should be promoted. These include planting of drought tolerant crops and short season varieties, national drought preparedness programming, reviving irrigation infrastructure, moisture conserving farming practises and water harvesting techniques and optimal use of water for power generation, irrigation and domestic.

To date, climate modelling has not “produced a clear scientific consensus on questions such as how long future El Nino events will last, whether the frequency of extreme La Nintildea events will change, and how intense La Nina events may be in the future.” La Nina is the opposite of El Nino, producing a cooling effect.

God is faithful

jeffgogo@gmail.com

Source : The Herald

Archives