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Pacific could suffer if La Niña hits

Monday 20 June 2016 | Published in Regional

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PACIFIC – An Australian aid agency providing help for Pacific disaster victims says a La Niña weather pattern is a real threat for much of the region.

The Pacific is still recovering from the debilitating drought effects of an El Niño.

But CARE Australia’s emergency response co-ordinator, Stefan Knollmayer, says if a La Niña system develops, it would have the potential to impact people just as severely.

He explained to Radio New Zealand’s Dateline Pacific there could be a reverse of the experience of the past nine months.

“La Niña brings with it a large amount of rain for the vast majority of the Pacific Island countries,” he said.

“So many of the countries that have been experiencing a particularly strong drought period – Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Fiji, Vanuatu, Tonga – these countries are likely to receive a large amount of rainfall.

“That can lead to flash flooding and various associated risks like landslides if the La Niña system starts to take hold.

“So those countries that have been struggling with some of the impacts of the dry period will now face, potentially, a significant amount of water.”

DATELINE PACIFIC: And it’s not always a lot wetter, it can actually have the reverse effect in some areas.

“That’s correct. Countries like Kiribati and Tuvalu, they will experience – if a La Niña does eventuate – a longer dry period, which of course is quite a challenge for those countries which are very reliant on rain for water.

“So, for them, a lot of their work over the coming months will be looking at how they can put some indicators in place to monitor the amount of rainfall that people are receiving, monitor some of those impacts, so that we can actually start to see whether we are actually facing a particular dry period as months go by.”

DATELINE PACIFIC: CARE Australia’s involved in the front lines helping people when they are affected, but you are also putting a lot of effort into preparation and disaster awareness, I suppose. So what are you doing with this possibility of a La Niña system about to hit?

“In places like Vanuatu and in the south of Vanuatu in Tafea province, across islands like Erromango, and Futuna, and Aniwa, we’ve been working for many years with those communities and what we’re trying to do is identify some of the risks they may face when certain situations occur.

“So in a period of heightened drought there are certain things that communities can undertake in terms of the kinds of crops they plant, and the kind of repairs they can do to their water systems.

“And if they are facing certain risks, like the cyclone season coming up later in the year, every year we know that happens so we provide some training to communities around first aid or identifying some of the risks in their community.

“Things like certain trees overhanging houses, practical things like that, being aware that rivers can flood during events like La Niña – perhaps considering moving some of your crops to higher ground so you can have a sort of fallback insurance policy should some of those lower lying areas flood.

“So it’s very practical things like that to provide the communities the skills to be the first responders should situations like this occur, and also try and minimise some of the risks that are associated with those climatic variations.” - RNZI