UN monitoring Colombia’s food security with El Niño weather pattern

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A member of the Wayúu community near Manuare. Photo: Richard Emblin

Bogotá streets are heating up, and while for many in the Colombian capital, the start of the dry season is being welcomed after months of incessant rain and tropical storms, the country’s meteorological institute IDEAM predicts that in June, the warm temperatures could increase given an 82 percent chance that the El Niño weather pattern will affect the country.

The arrival of a complex weather pattern that occurs irregularly in the tropical Pacific Ocean and characterized by the warming of the ocean’s surface could last several months, and any significant changes in atmospheric circulation patterns, will strain water levels in hydroelectric reservoirs. El Niño generally is marked by abundant rainfall along the Pacific coast, and potential drought conditions, in the interior.

Even though El Niño can fluctuate from mild to severe any significant change in atmospheric circulation could disrupt agricultural production, fisheries and marine ecosystems. The global effects of climate change, as well as intensification of tropical storms with El Niño, have also changed breeding and migration patterns of various marine species, and livelihoods of vulnerable communities that depend on them. Food shortages and power outages are known to accompany an extended El Niño.

While residents of Bogotá can take advantage of the warm weather by heading to local parks or dust up on their cycling skills, the prospect that capitalinos could see their electricity bills go up during the summer months also looms on the horizon. Despite reassurances that the country’s energy resources are prepared for drought-like conditions, the issue that the country could face “black outs” to conserve hydroelectric power generation has recently been raised at local and national levels.

While there is no indication – so far – of the strength or duration of the upcoming potential El Niño, the UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is monitoring the situation closely given that the eight years from 2015 to 2022 were the warmest on record. “We had a cooling La Niña […] and this acted as a temporary brake on global temperature increase,” stated WMO Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas. “The development of El Niño will most likely lead to a new spike in global heating and increase the chance of breaking temperature records,” he said.

Given the record number of people facing acute food insecurity, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) highlighted that it is “scrutinizing areas in the globe that are especially vulnerable to El Niño” and supporting countries on risk mitigation. FAO pointed to Southern Africa, Central America and the Caribbean and parts of Asia as areas of particular concern, where many people are already food insecure and “key cropping seasons fall under the typical El Niño weather patterns of drier conditions”.

The agency also flagged that major cereal producing and exporting countries such as Australia, Brazil and South Africa, are among the countries at risk of dry conditions, while on the other hand, excessive rainfall could affect cereal exporters Argentina, Turkey and the United States.