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Drought conditions are already taking a toll in Papua New Guinea where 2.4 million people are affected. Water shortages have closed several schools and hospitals, have depleted food supplies and have already led to deaths in the country. Seasonal rains expected in November are now not anticipated to arrive until the first half of 2016.
In Vanuatu, communities left vulnerable by Tropical Cyclone Pam in March are now facing the added threat of drought, including food and water shortages and malnutrition.
New Zealand Red Cross and its sister societies in the Pacific are already on alert for the upcoming season, which runs from November through to April.
New Zealand Red Cross Secretary General Tony Paine says Red Cross will be proactively monitoring the formation and progression of cyclones in the Pacific during the next six months, and will continue working closely with national societies and emergency response agencies.
“We have detailed plans in place so we can provide a quick and effective response to any weather-related emergency.
“However, we need to ensure we are all as prepared as we can be for whatever nature throws at us, especially with the higher number of cyclones expected.”
Relief supplies and equipment are already in place in vulnerable areas where locals, who are the first responders in any crisis, are trained to use them, he says.
Along with causing widespread drought, El Niño events can also impact on the number and severity of tropical cyclones. Meteorologists expect a higher than average number of tropical cyclones this season, particularly for countries in the eastern Pacific, such as the Cook Islands and Samoa.
Climatologists are predicting the current El Niño event could be the worst on record, potentially surpassing the 1997/1998 system which brought catastrophic drought to communities throughout the Pacific. NIWA has described this El Niño as one of the strongest in the last 60 years.
Scientists are forecasting between 11 and 13 tropical cyclones to form, with four predicted to reach Category 4 or 5. NIWA has predicted at least one cyclone will impact New Zealand.
Building resilience across the Pacific
This year, New Zealand Red Cross has worked with Pacific national societies to develop a water, sanitation and hygiene toolkit, which includes drought preparedness, water treatment and safe storage during emergencies.
During the past two years, we have trained 150 first aid trainers across the Pacific, leading to more than 36,000 people receiving basic first aid.
Telecommunications training has also been provided to more than 200 staff and volunteers in 10 Pacific countries, ensuring vital communications can get through following a disaster. Our aim is to support our Pacific neighbours, helping them foster resilience and build disaster response capacity.
Part of this is our involvement as a partner in FINPAC. The Finnish-Pacific Project (FINPAC) is a four-year regional project, which aims to improve livelihoods of Pacific communities by delivering locally understood weather, climate and early warning services which proved life-saving during Cyclone Pam.
Communities reported they understood warnings, evacuating to safe buildings, which resulted in a death toll of 16, low for a cyclone which brought destructive winds of up to 250km.
Kiwis can donate to our Pacific Disaster Fund to help us respond to disasters in the Pacific.