How is the EAC prepared against the looming El Nino?

We should expect one of the biggest and wettest El Nino to hit the region, and could be the strongest since the 1950s. Weather agencies regionally and worldwide have confirmed El Nino is on the way.

We should expect one of the biggest and wettest El Niño to hit the region, and could be the strongest since the 1950s. Weather agencies regionally and worldwide have confirmed El Niño is on the way.

El Niños occur every two to seven years in varying intensity, and are caused by the warming of the surface of the waters of the Pacific Ocean by up to 4 degrees Celsius warmer than usual.

A strong El Niño heats up the atmosphere and changes circulation patterns around the globe, which has previously meant more rain for the region.

The last big one was in 1997-98 when East Africa suffered continuous heavy downpours, which affected virtually all the sectors of the economy.

East African Community (EAC) partner states at the time – Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania – suffered heavy losses as the rains destroyed farmland and infrastructure and left thousands homeless and hungry.

Rwanda and Burundi only joined EAC in 2009. But, in their proximity to the other member countries, even they could not have been spared.

The region is already bracing itself for the coming one. Forecasts across the world show a high likelihood of the weather phenomenon strengthening from next month, and spilling over to early 2016.

The World Health Organisation and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University in the US warned a malaria outbreak is likely to manifest in countries such as Kenya because of the wetter and warmer weather.

The Rwanda Meteorology Agency forecasts rainfall in the three months leading to September that “may cause some diseases.”

The Agency urges relevant authorities to put in place both preventive and mitigating strategies to minimise loss of life and property.

Efforts are already underway to be prepared for it. Weather experts from East Africa will be meeting in Dar es Salaam next week to discuss likely scenarios and disaster response.

The report from the meeting will give a clearer picture of what to expect, which will be followed by three-month seasonal forecasts according to each country in the East African region.

Memories of the last major El Niño make everyone jittery. Those who remember may recall that the El Niño of 1997 was followed by severe drought in 1998, and was blamed for deadly virus outbreaks across the continent and rising coffee prices around the world.

It was largely due to this period that the weather phenomenon rose to global consciousness, making El Niño part of the public vernacular.

El Niño means The Little Boy, or Christ Child in Spanish. It was originally recognised by fishermen off the coast of South America in the 1600s, and was so named because of periodic warming in the Pacific often around Christmas.  

However, no two El Niños are exactly alike, and they’re only one of many different large-scale weather patterns acting in tandem to influence global weather.

1998 became the warmest year on record at the time, and experts say 2015 is almost certainly set to become the hottest year yet.

The unusually warm weather in Kigali and large parts of Rwanda is perhaps symptomatic of the looming phenomenon.

And, speaking of Kigali, a three-day workshop on Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) has just concluded that brought together 70 climate change experts from 50 African countries.

NAMAs are voluntary climate change mitigation measures proposed and taken up by developing countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to contribute to domestic sustainable development.

But does climate change have anything to do with El Niño? Apparently not.

The influence of climate change on El Niño is a matter of debate.  As CNN reports, some research suggests that while the overall number of El Niños is unlikely to increase, the number of “super” El Niños are twice as likely to occur.

One of the most likely by-products of global warming is more extreme precipitation events, as warmer temperatures can hold more water vapor in the atmosphere. This could make El Niño induced floods even more devastating.

While that remains so, may the EAC be vigilant and keep an eye on this coming one.


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