Publication Date July 28, 2017

African countries urged to prepare for rise in extreme El Niño events

Countries like Ethiopia are vulnerable to drought. Photo: Kimberly Flowers, USAID

Africa needs better early warning systems and disaster funds to prepare for rise in extreme El Niño events, say experts.

El Niño is a weather phenomenon that starts in the Pacific Ocean and has knock-on effects around the world. It has contributed to recent droughts in east and southern Africa.

study published in Nature Climate Change on Monday found that with 1.5C global warming, the number of extreme El Niño events will double.

Even if temperature rise is stabilised at this level – the aspirational goal of the Paris Agreement – the higher frequency of El Niños will continue for up to a century, models showed.


Philip Omondi, ICPAC climate information expert, said scientists can typically predict El Niño six months in advance, but that knowledge is not being used.

“Predictions by scientists have been accurate in the past few years but in Africa there is a lack of goodwill by decision makers to take early action,” Omondi told Climate Home.

Africa is still recovering from an exceptionally strong El Niño event in 2015/16 that left at least 36 million Africans hungry.

Each region is affected differently, said Omondi. “An El Niño results into floods in some parts of East Africa and drought in the northern sector… However, southern Africa experiences drought during an El Niño.”

The reverse of El Niño, La Niña, is also expected to intensify with global warming, bringing a different set of impacts.