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El Niño and La Niña in Southeast Asia

The workshop The Impact of El Niño and La Niña on Southeast Asia was held in Hanoi, Vietnam, during February 2000. It was organized by the Indochina Global Change Network (IGCN) to assist the scientific communities of the nations of Indochina – Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam – and the other nations of Southeast Asia to play their part in strengthening the capacity of the region to respond effectively to the impact of El Niño and La Niña.

The periodic warming and cooling of the tropical Pacific is associated with disruption of the atmospheric circulation and this can bring severe impacts to the Indochina region, affecting patterns of temperature, rainfall and other weather variables such as the frequency of tropical storms. While some consequences may be beneficial, adverse effects on agricultural production, water supplies, flood and storm occurrence and other determinants of human well- being and economic health frequently occur.

At this time, the capacity of the nations of Indochina to protect local peoples, natural ecosystems and national economies against the impact of El Niño and La Niña is limited. Historic means of coping with natural hazards, developed over centuries and millennia, are severely stretched as climate extremes coincide with societal developments that increase the vulnerability of regional populations and economies.

The needs of the region are many and diverse – to ensure access to adequate human, technical and financial resources, to develop the scientific and decision-making infrastructure, to put in place the necessary communication channels between relevant governmental agencies and other stakeholders, including local communities, to promote awareness amongst stakeholders and the general public, to strengthen response strategies at the regional, national and community levels.

The workshop covered three main topics:

  • the impact of El Niño and La Niña on Southeast Asia;
  • prospects for seasonal prediction; and,
  • response strategies.

Scientists and policy makers from Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, PR China, Germany, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, the United States, the United Kingdom and Vietnam attended the meeting.

The workshop participants advanced a series of detailed recommendations regarding practical action that should be taken promptly to strengthen the region’s capacity to respond effectively to El Niño and La Niña events. They strongly endorsed moves towards a more proactive response to such hazards.

The workshop took place against a backdrop of changing conditions in the key indicator regions of the tropical Pacific Ocean.

Recognizing their responsibility to respond to the latest information regarding the likely breakdown of the prevailing La Niña event, the workshop participants identified three key recommendations for immediate action that constitute a precautionary response to the latest assessment, preparing the ground for a more concerted response to the next El Niño event, whenever that should occur.

The recommendations for action are that:

  • In each country, a workshop should be organized bringing together representatives from government agencies and other stakeholders to draw attention to the latest assessment, provide information about potential impacts, open channels of communication, ensure full cooperation, and mobilize support for the strengthening of response strategies, thereby facilitating further action as later developments dictate.
  • In each country, meteorological and climatological agencies should ensure prompt and continual monitoring of El Niño forecasts available internationally, and of local indicators of effects and impacts, and make this information widely available in appropriate forms.
  • Each national meteorological agency should formally request, as a matter of urgency, that the World Meteorological Organization make available regular El Niño advisory reports, as undertaken during the last El Niño event, to ensure a single, consistent, authoritative source of information. It is recognized that the preparation of operational assessments of this nature may not be considered to be within the existing remit of the World Meteorological Organization and will have resource implications. Nevertheless, El Niño and La Niña represent a global problem, requiring a high degree of international cooperation such as is already manifest in support for this agency. Moreover, the multiplicity of forecasts, at times divergent and of varying reliability, warrants the intervention of a single, authoritative agency to provide a clear guide to the scientific consensus.

The workshop participants noted that a more definite assessment should be available by June 2000 and strongly supported the existing proposal that a regional outlook forum be held about that time.

Finally, the participants endorsed a statement regarding the likely breakdown of La Niña conditions this year.

The statement presents an expert assessment of the current forecasts and is carefully worded, calling for action without being unduly alarmist. It will be used as a basis for reports to relevant agencies and stakeholders, press releases and information for the general public, prepared by workshop participants on returning to their own countries.

The workshop was an activity of the Indochina Global Change Network. The Indochina Global Change Network was formed to strengthen the scientific capacity of the focal nations of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam to respond to the multiple threats posed by global environmental change and related hazards. The Network is dedicated to the ideal of sustainable development, meeting present-day needs while ensuring environmental security across both space and time.

The meeting was funded by the Asia-Pacific Network for Global Change Research and sponsored by the Vietnam Union of Science and Technology Associations. It was organized by the Center for Environment Research Education and Development, Hanoi, Vietnam, with the assistance of the University of East Anglia, Norwich, United Kingdom, on behalf of the Indochina Global Change Network and was held at the Fortuna Hotel, Hanoi, Vietnam, from February 21st-23rd 2000.

Further information

The workshop report can be obtained from the Indochina Global Change Network Secretariat, Center for Environment Research Education and Development, A01, K40, Giang Vo, Hanoi, Vietnam. Fax: +84-4-8515213. Email:

It is also available in electronic format.

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