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What is El Niño and why should you care?

What is El Niño?

You might have heard of El Niño before, but if not, we’ve got you covered!

El Nińo is a climate pattern that drives year-to-year variation in global surface temperature and long-term warming trends. Trade winds normally blow across the Pacific Ocean and help move warm water from South America towards Asia, driving the upwelling of water process. El Nińo weakens these trade winds and disrupts this movement of warm water. This has a colossal effect on the world’s weather, causing warm and dry conditions in some areas and drenching others with rain and flooding. An El Nińo event typically sticks around for between 9-12 months at a time but it can last years (National Ocean Atmospheric Administration).

Scientists have predicted its arrival this year with potentially significant impacts worldwide, including a push toward dangerous levels of global warming (Washington Post). This year is already shaping up to be one of the top four warmest years on record – and with the help of El Niño, it has a chance of being the warmest on record (Carbon Brief).

What are the social impacts?

When El Niño occurs, countries in the south-west pacific such as Indonesia, Northern Australia, and Papua New Guinea experience extreme drought and warming. For example, during the 2016 El Niño event, a lack of rainfall In Papua New Guinea caused severe drought and water shortages in many parts of the country. It is estimated that around 3 million people, or approximately one-third of the population, were affected by this drought (Oxfam).

The drought had a particularly severe impact on rural communities, where many people rely on subsistence agriculture for their livelihoods. Crop failures and water shortages led to food and water insecurity, as well as increased rates of malnutrition and illness.

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How are we helping our partnership communities in PNG prepare for El Niño?

Cool Earth has implemented a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WaSH) project in Papua New Guinea that aims to improve health for both families and the overall community by providing access to a safe water supply. A number of rainwater water tanks have already been delivered to our partnership communities. But in the face of this upcoming El Niño where a severe drought is expected, we are going to need more tanks to safeguard their access to clean and safe water.

This May, our Race for Rainforest campaign encourages you to walk, run, ride, cycle, or move however you choose and fundraise for these essential water tanks for our Papua New Guinea partnerships.

Clean water is not only a necessity, it’s a lifesaver. When rainforest communities are healthy, so is their rainforest. Help us raise £16,000 so that 3,000 people can have access to water and continue to protect their forest home!

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Rainwater tanks in our partnership communities in Papua New Guinea