UN Economic and Social Council President urges coherent global action to address El Niño

13 May 2016

On the heels of a United Nations special meeting on El Niño, the President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) has emphasized the need to reduce the impact of the phenomenon by implementing agreed-upon international frameworks in a coherent manner and increasing resilience-building efforts for the development of holistic disaster risk management worldwide.

In a Presidential Statement following the special meeting on Impacts of the 2015/16 El Niño phenomenon: Reducing risks and capturing opportunities, which was held this past week at UN Headquarters in New York, ECOSOC President Oh Joon underscored that the immediate priority must be to reduce the impact of the El Niño phenomenon by implementing the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 and the Paris Agreement on climate change in a coherent and integrated manner.

Mr. Oh’s Presidential Statement to the Council was followed up by an opinion pierce in the Miami Herald and a letter to the Editor of the New York Times, urging wider awareness of the destructive impact of El Niño and the need to bolster countries’ efforts to cope with the phenomenon.

“The El Niño phenomenon – with its increasing intensity – has lasting consequences for development,” Mr. Oh said in the statement, noting that participants in the special meeting had heard the many serious social, economic and environmental impacts of the phenomenon in 2015 and 2016.

“The UN system should look to a coherent, coordinated and integrated approach in support and assistance to countries,” he added. In that regard, the recent agreement among the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the World Food Programme (WFP) to develop a protocol outlining steps to be taken collectively will help to ensure early and coordinated response to future El Niño and La Niña events, he said.

Mr. Oh highlighted that the importance of risk management is also underscored in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which calls for the development and implementation of holistic disaster risk management at all levels. Risk reduction and resilience-building efforts should also be part of the World Humanitarian Summit considerations and the New Urban Agenda of the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Development – known as Habitat III – he added.

Among the key messages that emerged from discussions during the special meeting was that while the physical signs of the 2015/16 El Niño event are weakening, it will continue to climate patterns through the middle of 2016, and its socio-economic impacts will continue to strengthen till end of 2016. There are also signs that a La Niña event is likely to begin towards August 2016, he said.

“We must learn from the current El Niño phenomenon and set plans and strategies in order to

prepare for and address the risks and impacts of future El Niños and the possibilities of La Niña,” he said.

For that to occur, Mr. Oh stressed the importance of systematically evaluating, recording, sharing information and publicly accounting for disaster losses in order to develop strategies and plans to address the impacts of future El Niños. Moreover, he said that sustainable funding is necessary to build vulnerable people’s long-term resilience to extreme weather events related to the phenomenon, and that partnerships bringing together all actors are indispensable.

Along those lines, in an opinion piece published in the Miami Herald earlier this week, Mr. Oh noted that the international community will build on the special meeting to address the common challenge of the El Niño phenomenon and mobilize the UN development system to assist affected countries.

“The devastating impact of the 2015-16 El Niño is another reminder that we must learn from the past and be prepared for the future – we know what it takes to be prepared and to minimize its economic, social and environmental impact,” the ECOSOC President said.

“As we get ready to embrace the Atlantic hurricane season, the world’s most vulnerable is counting on us to work together to manage and reduce the risks of extreme weather conditions,” he added.

In his letter to the Editor of the New York Times, reprinted today online, Mr. Oh drew attention to the destructive wildfire in Fort McMurray, Alberta, which he said must be a concern for the whole world.

In fact he said, many developing countries in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific are suffering under El Niño’s devastating and far-reaching effect. The Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau have all declared states of emergency because of drought conditions from El Niño, and Malawi has declared a state of disaster.

The phenomenon happens every three to seven years. Its effect goes beyond the environment into the economic and social spheres, jeopardizing our progress toward sustainable development, said Mr. Oh.

“We must build on what we have learned from the previous El Niños as well as one another. This is of utmost urgency if we want to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change without leaving anyone behind.”


♦ Receive daily updates directly in your inbox - Subscribe here to a topic.
♦ Download the UN News app for your iOS or Android devices.