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Friday, September 30, 2016

Remarkable progress in the face of huge challenges

Droughts, massive forest fires, powerful storms, and flash floods continue to receive a lot of news coverage worldwide.

It appears that the severe weather patterns that can trigger these disasters are becoming the norm, and families here in Canada, and overseas, are living with the consequences.

Many severe weather events are linked to El Niño and La Niña, both of which are periodic departures from expected sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific. Warmer or cooler than normal ocean temperatures affect weather patterns around the world by creating high and low pressure systems, with stronger winds, large amounts of precipitation, or extreme heat.

In some cases, the result for affected regions can range from too much water to too little water – both of which create humanitarian and development challenges on a massive scale.

El Niño and La Niña have a significant impact on agriculture and the environment. Parched or eroded farmlands, decreased agricultural production, widespread food scarcity, interrupted livelihoods, and failed markets are the hallmark of these big weather patterns.

El Niño and La Niña also affect the health of people. Rates of water-borne diseases rise with the flood waters. Malnutrition intensifies in areas affected by drought. In both scenarios, food insecurity is present. El Niño and La Niña also cause mass displacements of people in arid regions of the world as they move in search of basic needs such as food and water.

There are, however, effective ways to help families and communities respond.

Communities in countries such as Cambodia, the Philippines, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Haiti, and Honduras are more resilient today than previously because friends of HOPE International Development Agency provided the funds needed to provide the support that saves lives, crops, and livelihoods.

Water systems have been installed to ensure sufficient access to water, even during times of drought. Communities are using new infrastructure and equipment to irrigate farm fields during the driest months. Farmers have learned special techniques to preserve plants and crops with minimal water, until the rains come again. In some cases, farmers have even been able to make modest gains in producing more food than in previous years by applying these techniques.

Families and communities are doing remarkable things in the face of huge challenges brought about by severe weather.

Now, as El Niño has tempered into a “neutral phase”, many of these same families and communities are bracing for the next wave of tropical storms and floods of an ensuing La Niña season.

The good news, amidst all the difficult news, is that the families who have received help from friends of HOPE are now well positioned to deal with the challenges associated with severe weather.

While it can be distressing and discouraging to grasp the full implications of weather patterns that are out of our immediate control, understanding the cycles and effects enables us to stand in solidarity and react with generosity to support our partners around the world as they work with communities to build resilience amidst a changing climate and respond to disasters brought on by El Niño and La Niña.

If you would like to learn more, The United Nations Office for Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) released a comprehensive report this week containing an overview of the impact of El Niño over 2015-2016.