SYDNEY: Droughts, erratic rains and frosts brought by a super-charged El Niño are severely impacting the Pacific, with Papua New Guinea worst hit, aid group Oxfam said in a report on Monday.
The group also painted a gloomy forecast for the Philippines, saying 85 percent of the country is expected to be in drought by March 2016.
Calling for an urgent upscaling in relief to save lives, the charity said 4.7 million people faced hunger, poverty and disease in the Pacific region as a result of the weather pattern.
“This is a crisis on a huge global scale,” said the report, “Early Action on Super-charged El Niño Vital to Save Lives.”
“The current El Niño is one of the strongest ever measured, which means there will be more extreme weather conditions that will threaten people’s food security, lives and livelihoods.”
El Niño is the name given to a weather pattern associated with a sustained period of warming in the central and eastern tropical Pacific that can spark deadly and costly climate extremes.
Last month, the UN weather agency warned that the phenomenon, triggered by a warming in sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, was the worst in more than 15 years.
Oxfam said climate change was super-charging the effects of El Niño and despite a landmark global climate pact reached in Paris on the weekend, much needed to be done rapidly to cut emissions.
It added that the result of the current strong El Niño would likely be 40-50 million people globally facing hunger, disease and water shortages in early 2016 as the slow onset crisis plays out.
The worst-affected places include Papua New Guinea in the Asia-Pacific as well as Ethiopia and Malawi in Africa and Guatemala, Haiti and Honduras in Latin America.
“Papua New Guinea has been severely affected, particularly in the highlands, with widespread drought and frost affecting up to three million people and destroying crops and livestock,” Oxfam said.
“Drought has also affected Vanuatu, Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Samoa and Tonga, damaging crops and water supplies.”
Because El Niño also increases the probability of a longer tropical cyclone season in the southern hemisphere, countries in the eastern Pacific such as the Cook Islands and Samoa may also be at risk of strong storms, the charity said.
Across Asia, monsoon rains have been limited, with Indonesia worst affected.
Oxfam said in Ethiopia some 8.2 million people currently needed support because of a lack of rainfall while huge areas of southern Africa were also in drought.
In Central America and Haiti, small farmers and day laborers are the worst affected, with the potential for greater drought and major flooding in South America.
“The warning bells are deafening. We must act now to save lives and prevent people falling further into poverty,” Oxfam Australia’s humanitarian manager Meg Quartermaine said.