By Lillian Nkwenge
The greater Horn of Africa Climate Outlook Forum (GHACOF 41) that was held in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania on august 25, 2015 indicated the likelihood that the equatorial regions will experience enhanced rains while depressed rainfall patterns will be observed in the northern and southern parts of the greater Horn of Africa (GHA) during the current El Niño period for the September to December rainfall season, resulting into weather and climate related disasters in some countries.
It is projected that adverse impacts that El Niño is already having in some parts of the region and its expected significant will impact on humanitarian conditions and the socio-economic sectors of the IGAD and EAC region, mainly agriculture and livestock, education, health, transport and infrastructure.
Member States of Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and East African Community (EAC), have made a declaration in Naivasha, Kenya, that is calling upon Member States to commit adequate resources both financial and human, to effectively prepare, mitigate, respond and recover from the El Niño impacts;
The intention of this paper is to bring to light the El Niño occurrence, the current status of El Niño 2015 and Outlook and some of the terms that explain this phenomenon.
El Niño is the name given to a periodic heating up of the surface of the central tropical Pacific Ocean (nino 3.4 region), which happens as trade winds weaken and warm water that is usually confined to the western Pacific flows eastwards, away from Indonesia and towards Peru. This creates a huge release of heat into the atmosphere that influences global weather patterns. It is a natural phenomenon and an El Niño happens approximately every seven or eight years, according to Abdishakur Othowai a Disaster Risk Management Expert at ICPAC.
Every few years, an unusually warm current flows off the western coast of South America. Their appearances after Christmas lead sailors in Peru to christen it El Nino, the Christ-child in Spanish.
Abdishakur likens the El Nino to a child, who is sometimes unpredictable, and sometimes creates havoc. In El Nino’s case, it brings natural disasters such as storms, floods and droughts and famine in far-flung parts of the world.
The term El Nino is nowadays used to refer to the periods of strong and prolonged warm weather, which influence the climate worldwide. The periods of the warm waters in eastern Pacific (El Nino) and periods of cooler waters (La Nina) are accompanied by changes of air pressure in the east and west Pacific: these are called the Southern Oscillation. The whole cycle is now referred to as El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO). The effects of La Nina are generally less pronounced and tend to be the opposite of those of El Nino. i.e; this creates very dry conditions that lead to draught that has devastating effects to plant, animals and human life.
What to keep in mind;
El Niño conditions are often followed by La Niña conditions with reverse regional climate conditions to those observed during El Niño. Thus climate anomalies over many parts of the world including the GHA influenced by El Niño conditions often reverse when La Niña conditions sets in immediately after an El Niño event. Thus various irregular weather and climate extremes will dominate over the region for the next several months if El Niño event will persist or reverse to La Niña conditions.
Characteristics of El Niño
Each El Niño is different and has different impacts over the same region. In some areas it is associated with enhanced rainfall while in others it results in suppressed rainfall. The overall influence on the rainfall patterns is dictated by the modulating effects of the regional climate systems, including topography and the large water bodies, as well as the characteristics of the surrounding ocean basins. Below is a breakdown of likely El Niño impacts over the different sectors in the GHA.
The sector lies within the Equatorial Zone. It receives at least two rainfall peaks in a year, centered around March to May and October to December. Over the equatorial sector, enhanced rainfall is common during October to December of the onset year for El Niño events over most areas. The enhanced rainfall during October to December tends to extend into the following year, making wet the usually dry months of January and February.
The sector lies further north of the Equatorial Zone. It receives one rainfall peak in a year, centered around June, July and August. El Niño events are often, but not always, associated with suppressed or below normal rainfall over most parts of the northern sector.
The sector lies further south of the Equatorial Zone. It receives one rainfall peak around December to February. El Niño events are often, but not always, associated with suppressed or below normal rainfall over most parts of the southern sector.
Status of El Nino in Uganda
The current El Niño episode has been evolving since June 2015 and is now fully developed. The Uganda National Meteorological Authority in collaboration with the majority of international and regional climate centers predict that the 2015-16 El Niño is likely to strengthen further before the end of the year and is likely to persist to early 2016.
The El Niño rains are already bringing plenty of water for domestic and industrial use, power generation and agricultural production. It is predicted that El Niño rains are expected to spill over to January and February 2016 which are normally dry months in Uganda.
This is an opportunity for an extended growing season for Ugandans to grow more food for both home consumption and sale to neighboring countries such as in Southern Africa which will be experiencing severe drought. Unfortunately, negative impacts outweigh the positive ones.
Although, countrywide, there is a high likelihood that irregular rains are likely to continue to January and February 2016, the predicted rains are expected to be near normal to above normal rainfall over the country and therefore the following advisories are recommended:-
In general, farmers are advised to make use of the seasonal rains by optimizing crop yield through appropriate land-use management.
Farmers are also encouraged to plant enough food for both domestic use and sale to emerging markets in the neighboring countries.
On the whole, about 77 of the 110 districts are likely to get more positive impacts of the El Niño than the negative ones (Mbarara, Kiruhura, Isingiro, Ibanda, Bushenyi, Buhweju, Mitooma, Sheema, Rubirizi, Kyenjojo, Kyegegwa, Kamwenge, Kibaale, Hoima, Buliisa,, Masindi, Arua, Maracha, Nebbi, Okoro, Adjumani, Amuru, Nwoya, Yumbe, Koboko, Zombo, Rakai, Lyantode, Lwengo, Kalungu, Bukomansimbi, Sembabule, Mubende, Kiboga, Kyankwanzi, Luwero, Nakaseke, Nakasongola, Mukonon, Buikwe, Kayunga, Kalangala, Buvuma, Wakiso, Masaka, Mpigi, Gomba, Mityana, Jinja, Mayuge, Bugiri, Busia, Kamuli, Iganga, Luuka, Namutumba, Buyende, Kaliro, Pallisa, Budaka, Kumi, Soroti, Serere, Bukedea, Ngora, Gulu, Apac, Lira, Kitgum, Lamwo, Abim, Oyam and Kole).
These seventy seven districts which will benefit more from the El Niño rains have been advised start preparation of gardens, to increase acreage massively in order to take advantage of the on-coming plenty of water (rainfall) and the long rainy season to boost crop production and harvests thus raising food security and exports to Countries that will be experiencing severe drought over the same period of time.
Populations in the category of the districts likely to experience more negative impacts of the El Niño have also been advised to prepare gardens as well and to plant, because not all parts of family plots will be flooded or affected by landslides. There are many families in this category that will not be affected negatively, so they are encouraged to as well plant massively taking advantage of the plenty of water.
Disaster Management Sector
The Commissioner for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees, Office of the Prime Minister, Mr Martin Owor says that it should be noted that local and month-to-month variations might occur as the season progresses. Therefore, appropriate measures should be taken to avoid loss of life and destruction of infrastructure and property. Village, Sub county and District Disaster Management committees are advised to report any emerging incident associated with weather and climate hazards immediately to the concerned authorities at National Emergency Coordination and Operation Centre (NECOC), Office of the Prime Minister on toll free line 0800177777.
EL NINO negative impacts in Uganda
There are high possibilities of massive flooding, landslides, destructive windstorms, lightening, destruction of feeder roads, washing away of small-bridges and culverts, roofs of many village homes getting blown-off and rotting of root crops.
The incidence of infectious diseases such as malaria, cholera dysentery, and acute respiratory infections will likely rise to outbreak levels in about 33 of the 112 districts. Major epidemic of falciparum malaria may occur in a population that has no immunity. In addition, mortality and morbidity due to malaria may increase. In areas affected by drought, malaria caseload can be compounded by widespread food shortages with acute malnutrition especially among children under five years old. An increased risk of malaria is associated with excessive rainfall and with drought affected areas with a time lag.
There may also be outbreaks of communicable diseases, particularly in overcrowded settlements and along the water bodies usually contaminated by sewage and human excreta.
Still in Health, The number of cases of severe and moderate acute malnutrition among children may increase as it has significantly increased in Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan and this trend is likely to persist over the coming months. The findings of nutrition surveys conducted in parts of Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, and South Sudan indicate serious to critical emergency level of global acute malnutrition in the general population (Abdishakur Othowai, 2015). Therefore, immediate scale up of nutrition programming as well as programming for food security, health, water, sanitation and hygiene is immediately required.
Excessive rainfall due to El Nino may also increase the risk of outbreaks of waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, shigellosis, hepatitis A and E due to unsafe drinking water and inadequate sanitation. This flooding situation may be aggravated by the currently ongoing cholera outbreaks in Tanzania mainly in Dar-es-Salam; South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya as these may spread very easily to Uganda.
Some Health facilities are likely to be damaged; many pit-latrines will be flooded in the affected districts. The above scenarios will lead to increased demand for relief, health and infrastructural services There are high possibilities of massive flooding, landslides, destructive windstorms, lightening, destruction of feeder roads, washing away of small-bridges and culverts, roofs of many village homes getting blown-off and rotting of root crops.
The negative effects of the El Niño rains are likely to cause misery to hundreds of households in the following districts namely; Bududa, Bulambuli, Manafwa, Sironko, Mbale, Butaleja, Tororo, Kapchorwa, Bukwo, Kween, Kasese, Budibugyo, Ntoroko, Kampala, Amolatar, Amuria, Katakwi, Nakapiripirit, Napak, Moroto, Kotido, Kaabong, Kaberamaido, Otuke, Amudat, Kisoro, Kabale, Rukungiri, Kanunugu, Ntungamo, Moyo and Kabarole.
The El Niño episode will also affect end of year schools examination programme in most of the districts named above because of the torrential rains, flooding, fear of landslides, lightening and likely damage to feeder roads.
The El Niño event may to some extend affect the Elections process; when some roads get impassable, when torrential rains disrupt political rallies and when the people affected turn their misery to the Candidates
The visit of His Holiness the Pope will come during the peak of the torrential rains (rains falling frequently and continuously for long hours almost daily). There may be need to construct strong shades for the Congregations.
Historical patterns show that a La Niña event often, but not always, follows a strong El Niño
Very strong El Niño in 1982-1983 was followed by weak La Niña in 1984
Very strong El Niño in 1997-1998 was followed by a moderate La Niña in 1998-1999
Moderate El Niño in 1972-73 was followed by two strong La Niña years in 1973-74 and 1975-76
Moderate El Niño in 1986-1988 was followed by strong La Niña in 1989
Moderate El Niño in 2009-2010 as followed by a moderate La Niña in 2011 which was the basis for the Somalia famine, The drought was attributed to La Niña conditions – Dutra et al. (2013)
In conclusion, the predicted rains require action in sufficient time and in an appropriate manner so as to take advantage of the information. At UNMA, we feel that this period should be used for planning in rain-fed economic activities so as to improve economic welfare and livelihoods for all our communities in their localities.
“Weather and climate for all”
The writer is the principal public relations officer of the Uganda National Metrological Authority