Urgent action was required to deal with the effects of El Niño, the General Assembly heard this morning as it discussed the phenomenon that devastates more than 60 million people a year and whose extreme weather events were predicted only to worsen in the future.
Assembly President Peter Thomson (Fiji) said that a year after adopting a resolution on the global impacts of El Niño, the humanitarian impacts of the phenomenon continued to be profound. Extreme weather events created massive need across the world. El Niño increased food insecurity and malnutrition, exacerbated outbreaks of infectious and waterborne diseases, and forcibly displaced people and communities.
“Addressing the impacts of El Niño requires a coordinated response,” he told the Assembly, as he emphasized that the phenomenon was fundamentally undermining the prospects for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. For example, extreme droughts across Southern Africa had caused massive crop failures, leaving millions of people without enough food. Catastrophic hurricanes had moved across the Caribbean, severe tropical cyclones had affected the Pacific and Southeast Asia, and in Ecuador hundreds of floods and landslides had devastated communities. The El Niño phenomenon had also wreaked havoc on global rainfall patterns, leading to disastrous flooding and prolonged droughts.
Comprehensive, long-term strategies were needed to build early warning systems to strengthen the reliance of vulnerable countries, and to prevent and mitigate the adverse socioeconomic and environmental impacts, he said. Humanitarian responses needed to be scaled up, with urgent financial, technical and capacity-building support provided to countries and people in need. The compounding effects of climate change and El Niño had seen the intensity, frequency and variability of extreme weather events increase, hitting countries least responsible for climate change first and the hardest.
In the ensuing discussion, Peru’s representative said that, due to its geographical location and natural characteristics, his country was highly susceptible to natural disasters. Noting that the 2015—2016 El Niño phenomenon was the strongest since 1997, he said that new preventive measures had helped to mitigate its impact. Peru had invested $5.5 million in such efforts, preventing estimated losses of about $3.5 billion. Among other things, it had provided the agricultural system with farming insurance plans and had worked to ensure the survival of livestock and pastureland. Highlighting some of the lessons learned from the country’s experience, he underscored the need for the Government and the population to jointly participate in efforts, prevent damage through multi-sectoral action, cooperate closely with neighbouring countries and improve the precision of early warning systems.
Echoing that sentiment, Ecuador’s representative, recalling that Central America had recently been hit by one of the worst droughts in its history, said his Government had invested more than $1.1 billion to protect its citizens from weather-related disasters. Among other efforts, it had controlled insects to prevent Zika and similar diseases and had taken an inclusive risk-management approach. The time had come to look beyond a humanitarian consideration of those phenomena, he said, stressing that “we need to discuss this globally on an ongoing basis”. Indeed, humanitarian efforts must be enhanced, and comprehensive recommendations incorporating science, technology and innovation were crucial.
The General Assembly will meet again at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 3 November, to elect members of the International Law Commission.
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