Date: Sat, 19 Sep 98 00:16:05 CDT
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Rich Winkel)
Subject: ENVIRONMENT: La Nina Threatens East Africa
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La Nina Threatens East Africa
By Philip Ngunjiri, IPS, 14 September 1998
NAIROBI, Sep 14 (IPS) - Last year, East African countries became very familiar with the effects of El Nino as heavy rains and floods devastated parts of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Now, scientists say the region has to worry about another climatic phenomenon__La Nina.
"The people of East Africa should brace themselves for another wet season," says Peter Usher of the Nairobi-based United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP).
Usher, who is in charge of the UNEP's Atmosphere Unit, said the scientists have taken their cue from the current heavy rains and flooding in Peru, China, Bangladesh and Korea.
"Meteorologists have attributed the torrential rains in Peru and China, and the flooding in Bangladesh and Korea to La Nina," he says.
According to UNEP's natural catastrophes figures for 1997 which include flooding, windstorms and earthquakes, Africa suffered 73 million US Dollars in economic losses, which were not insured. Europe, on the other hand lost 10,617 million US Dollars, which were mostly insured.
Despite the heavy economic losses, only 389 people were recorded to have died in Europe, compared with 2,300 in Africa in 1997, says UNEP.
To avoid similar catastrophes in the future, UNEP has called on Africa to establish early warning systems.
"Improved guidelines on early warning systems would go a long way to improve Africa's economic condition, at the same time save more lives," says Usher. "This is a great opportunity to predict the changes on global weather patterns and to come up with clear forecasts, and to understand and prepare for these unusual, but threatening events."
La Nina is characterised by unusually cold ocean temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific, as compared to El Nino, which is characterised by unusually warm ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific.
The El Nino and La Nina have hit the headlines in the past 18 months, following the drought and forest fires in Indonesia, and the floods in California and the numerous tropical storms which brought unseasonably wet weather to the western Pacific.
"Of course, the continual rain late last year to mid this year in East Africa with record breaking rainfall in the normally dry season of January to March and ruin of considerable amount of the three country's infrastructure, has also been blamed on El Nino" says Usher.
According to him, 1997 was a period of unprecedented warming in the equatorial Pacific. "However, in May this year, sea surface temperatures fell 8 degree centigrades in 30 day, a rate beyond all observed records," says Usher. "By July, the easterly trade winds had become well established and a tongue of cold water, 2 degrees colder than normal, was developing in central Pacific, indicative of an imminent La Nina."
The effects of La Nina are mostly opposite to those of El Nino and are generally most dramatic during the Northern Hemisphere winter.
La Nina, which has brought torrential rain to south-east Asia -- welcome news for those combating the widespread forest fires of 1998 -- has been associated with an active Indian monsoon, which usually spills over into the south-eastern Africa during the Southern Hemisphere winter.
And El Nino, based on surveys carried out in the past 60 years, could be as equally dry as wet with only minimal departure from average conditions.
[c] 1998, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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