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El Niño's effect on food supply
El Niño is the natural event that recurs in more or less regular cycles (average every 4 - 5 years). El Niño affects the
Pacific from Peru to Indonesia. The intense 1997-98 El Nino killed 24,000 people, caused $34 billion in direct losses and
triggered drought and fires in Southeast Asia, intense winter storms along the US west coast, floods in East Africa and
both floods and drought in China, according to the UN World Meteorological Agency.
IN NORMAL CONDITIONS: strong trade winds go westwards towards Australia in the South Pacific. This pushes warm
surface water west, causing low air pressure, resulting in rainy wet weather. The warm water flowing west means that
cool water wells up in the east (Peru current), causing high air pressure, and dry weather conditions. The cold water in the
east has vital nutrients for Peru's fish stocks.
IN EL NIÑO CONDITIONS: the normal westerly blowing trade winds are weakened, causing warm surface water to slosh
to the eastern Pacific. This suppresses the cold Peru current, resulting in lower air pressure in Latin America, which leads
to flooding and heavy rains. In the west, the warm water has moved east, so surface water is cooler here, causing high
air pressure, leading to droughts and fires.
IN LA NIÑA CONDITIONS: the normal conditions are intensified and westerly blowing trade winds are much stronger, so
even more warm water is pushed to the western Pacific. This causes very low air pressure, leading to storms and floods
in Australia. In the eastern Pacific, even more cold water upwells from below and the air pressure is thus extremely high,
causing droughts and fires in Latin America.
Peru: (effects of the 1997 El Niño event, from the FAO)
Planting of the 1998 cereal and potato crops is underway. Heavy rains have been reported since December all over the
country, resulting in flooding and landslides in the northern, central and south-eastern parts of the country. The rains
became even more intensive in late January and are particularly affecting the large rice producing areas of the northern
coastal province of Piura. Bananas, other food and cash crops, like cotton, grow in this area. It has also been associated
with steep declines in fish stocks, including the 1972 collapse of the world's largest fishery, the Peruvian anchoveta.
Peru's GDP shrank from a 7.2% increase in 1997 to a 0.2% increase in 1998, directly as a result of El Niño.
Ecuador: (effects of the 1997 El Niño event, from the FAO)
Cereal as well as other food and important cash crops, such as coffee, cocoa, bananas and sugar cane have been
seriously damaged. The livestock sector and several shrimp farms have also suffered. A state of emergency was declared
by the Government.
Australia/New Zealand: (www.econews.com.au about predicted 2012 el niño)
Australian wheat production is forecast to dip this year from the record 2011/12 season and dry weather across
Western Australia has seen forecasts downgraded in recent weeks. In 1983, thousands of head of livestock in Australia
were destroyed because there was no grain feed for them to eat.
The Sahel: (www.environmentalgraffiti.com, June 2012
El Niño years typically bring hotter, drier conditions to the Sahel region of Africa. This could have tremendous
implications for nations such as Mauritania, Mali, Chad and Niger that are already battling a severe food security crisis
which may even culminate in all-out famine. Even without El Niño's influence, the Sahel food security situation has been
shaping up to be a top humanitarian story of 2012. If El Niño fosters drier, hotter conditions across the region, the Sahel
crisis may reach a tipping point.
Peru is one of several countries that are already successfully using predictions of El Niño in connection with agricultural
planning. Other countries that have taken similar initiatives include Australia, Brazil, Ethiopia, and India.