BOULDER--Twelve countries around the world will now have help inpreparing for droughts, floods, fires, and tropical storms related tofuture El Ninos. The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) incooperation with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) hasreceived a $650,000 grant from the United Nations Fund for InternationalPartnership for a 19-month study of 1997-98 El Nino impacts. The studywill help each country build operational, research, and educationalprograms to protect its people and the environment from climate hazardsrelated to El Nino and La Nina events. NCAR's primary sponsor is theNational Science Foundation.
The source of the NCAR/UNEP grant is the first part of a billion-dollargift to the UN in September 1997 by businessman Ted Turner. The WorldMeteorological Organization, the UN University, and the UN InternationalDecade for Natural Disaster Reduction are partners in the project.
The program will assess forecasts and impacts of the 1997-98 El Nino inChina, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Fiji, Kenya, Mozambique,Panama, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, and Vietnam. This month and next,NCAR and UNEP will establish a network of participants in each country,who will then develop projects tailored to each society's needs. Thefirst meeting of the country study leaders will take place in theInternational Conference Centre of Geneva in early July 1999.
"El Nino is a hazard spawner," says project director Michael Glantz, asenior scientist at NCAR. "Affected countries are wise to incorporate itinto their national disaster plans." Such preparedness could help withsimilar climate impacts resulting from global climate change over thenext century, which some scientists believe will produce more severedrought in some areas and heavier rains in others.
El Nino occurs when trade winds over the Pacific Ocean weaken andsometimes reverse direction, and surface waters warm off the west coastof South America. Through changes in atmospheric circulation, it canaffect climate around the world. The 1997-98 El Nino, for example,brought drought to Australia and heavy rains to Kenya. La Nina, acooling of the same Pacific waters, generally creates less intenseimpacts worldwide but can brew a hearty hurricane season in the AtlanticOcean.
According to Glantz, "El Nino is the climate event that allows us theearliest warnings of potential impacts. Still, we're just starting tolearn how to get ready for it." Glantz, who proposed the new project,believes extensive analysis of what worked and what didn't for eachcountry before, during, and after the 1997-98 El Nino is the key topreparing for future climate catastrophes.
After reviewing each country's systems for early warning and naturaldisaster preparedness, the participants will identify research andpolicy needs. The final step will be to develop preliminary guidelinesfor regional and national preparedness for both El Nino and La Ninaevents. Glantz hopes to introduce climate-affairs courses intouniversity curricula in the 12 case-study countries to prepare futurescientists and policymakers for approaching climate disasters.
NCAR is managed by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research,a consortium of more than 60 universities offering Ph.D.s in atmosphericand related sciences.
On the Web: http://www.dir.ucar.edu/esig/un
UCAR and NCAR news: http://www.ucar.edu/publications/newsreleases/1999.
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