EDITORIAL: This is what the El Nino forecast means

Brace for heavy rains. The Rwanda Meteorology Agency (RMA) says the nation should prepare for above normal rains with chances of El Niño next month. RMA has asked government departments in charge of disaster contingency, including the Ministries of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs; Local Government; Defence; Agriculture; and Health to immediately re-examine their contingency plans as the country’s western half is set to have above normal rainfall between September and December.

Brace for heavy rains. The Rwanda Meteorology Agency (RMA) says the nation should prepare for above normal rains with chances of El Niño next month. RMA has asked government departments in charge of disaster contingency, including the Ministries of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs; Local Government; Defence; Agriculture; and Health to immediately re-examine their contingency plans as the country’s western half is set to have above normal rainfall between September and December.

Many a time, people overlook weather forecast. But it is not every other day that meteorologists will warn of El Nino weather patterns, so when RMA says the East African region could experience its heaviest and most sustained shower pattern in five decades, there is a reason to raise eyebrows.

El Niños, characterised by warmer-than-average temperatures, particularly during the second half of the year, have been occurring since the end of the Ice Age. But scientists have only been able to effectively monitor the events since the advent of weather satellites. During that time, there have only been two strong El Niños – one in 1982-83 and another in 1997-98. This year is predicted to see a third such phenomenon.

El Niño means destructive downpour that could fall cumulatively or precipitate for a long time, or fall for a short time but with great intensity. These patterns could see a rise in incidents of floods and landslides, reduced agricultural activity in some areas, damage to infrastructure like roads, and increased cases of water borne diseases.

Cases of malaria and waterborne diseases such as typhoid are also likely to increase, calling for health authorities to urgently devise measures to mitigate any occurrences.

For natives near water bodies who rely on fish for economic sustenance, the warm waters that have preceded the rains could have already disrupted the normal upwelling of nutrients from cooler depths, leading to reduced fish stock.

The forecast of El Niño means there is no time for ‘if’s, it is time to set up sustainable contingency plans. From individual fishermen to families and institutions, the challenge is real with hardly any room for experiments.

Authorities responsible for infrastructure and other vulnerable institutions should put in place both preventive and mitigative strategies to minimise loss of life and property.

 

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