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Preparing for El Niño

Manila Standard

The United Nations World Meteorological Organization has said the current El Niño, which developed rapidly during July-August this year, is likely to peak between now and January.

“There is a 90-percent likelihood it will persist throughout the upcoming northern hemisphere winter/southern hemisphere summer,” it said in its latest update, adding it was expected to last until at least April.

This coincided with a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association which officially declared an El Niño for 2023.

The weather phenomenon, which occurs commonly every two to seven years, usually increases global temperatures in the year after it develops.

But, while most of the El Niño impact is not expected to be felt until 2024, WMO highlighted the phenomenon was occurring in the context of rapid climate change.

Currently the hottest year ever recorded was 2016 — the year after an exceptionally strong El Niño developed — but the world is already on track to beat that record.

El Nino last occurred in 2018-2019 and was followed by an exceptionally long La Niña — El Niño’s cooling opposite — which ended earlier this year.

WMO said the most recent forecasts for the current El Niño impact suggest a high likelihood of continued warming in the central-eastern equatorial Pacific through next April.

That means El Niño conditions are present and will strengthen in the northern hemisphere this winter.

Scientists say this year’s El Niño is poised to be a big one, sending shock waves into weather patterns worldwide and is likely to set new heat records, energize rainfall in South America, fuel drought in Africa, and it may have already helped fuel early-season heat waves in Asia, including the Philippines, this year.

El Niño can make extreme weather events more likely in certain regions, including extreme heat, droughts, storms and flooding.

Flood-related health risks are complex and multifaceted, ranging from hypothermia, drowning, undernutrition and injuries to infectious disease escalation and mental health problems.

Flooding in the 2016 El Niño displaced over 150,000 people in Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina. As a result, Paraguay declared a health alert for mosquito-borne diseases like dengue.

In the same year, wildfires contributed to as many as 100,000 fatalities, while an estimated 60 million people across Africa, Asia, the Pacific and Latin America required food assistance.

With food assistance now vulnerable to extreme weather, we are likely to see higher malnutrition rates due to crop failure and increased food insecurity.

We agree with climatologists that climate change adversely impacts mental health in different ways.

During heatwaves, suicide rates, hospitalizations for psychiatric disorders, and emergency psychiatric visits have been shown to increase.

Global heating means people taking medications that disrupt the body’s ability to regulate temperature are particularly vulnerable in high temperatures.

Meanwhile, hospitalizations for climate-sensitive infectious diseases and coping with the long-term consequences of severe infections both compromise mental health.

We need to be on guard against these extreme weather events.

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