Skip to main content

Pacific: Drought - 2015-2017

+ 13 more
Disaster types

In Fiji, many communities are experiencing the effects of an El Niño-induced drought, with farmers losing crops and water supplies drying out and water trucking underway. A drought warning is in place and the Government reports at least 30,000 people are now affected. Other El Niño effects include a drought declaration in Tonga after extremely dry weather for nearly a year and further low rainfall expected for the rest of the year. Emergency water supplies were distributed to the outer islands and water desalination services are available if needed. (OCHA, 14 Sep 2015)

Current estimates suggest that 4.3 million people in 12 Pacific countries could be at risk from changed rainfall patterns caused by El Niño (drought and increased rainfall).

Fiji are reliant on water deliveries as a result of the country’s El Niño-related drought in Western, Eastern and Northern divisions of Fiji.

A drought watch has recently been cancelled in the Solomon Islands after recent rainfall which started before Christmas. However there remain food security concerns after repeated interruptions to crop cultivation as a result of cyclones, floods and drought conditions last year. (OCHA, 8 Jan 2016)

Many parts of Micronesia are entering a period of moderate to severe drought as El Niño impacts continue to be felt. Lower than normal rainfall during the coming months will cause drought to develop in the Mariana Islands and parts of Chuuk state. Drought is already affecting Palau and Yap State. A dry trade-wind pattern will also cause increasingly dry conditions across the Marshall Islands. Below normal rainfall is expected across the region until later in the year. (OCHA, 25 Jan 2016)

The Marshall Islands declared a state of emergency in February after 13 atolls have formally requested assistance from the National Government to address water shortage challenges associated with the droughts. (Gov't of Marshall Islands, 3 Feb 2016)

Over the past several weeks, extreme drought was reported in eight atolls across the Marshall Islands including Wotje and Utirik. As of 20 April, the drought has affected an estimated 6,400 people. On 24 April, the Government declared a State of Emergency for 31 days in the affected areas. The Emergency Operations Centre was activated and is coordinating the response with local governments and national clusters. Authorities are liaising with bilateral partners to support the in-country response. (OCHA, 1 May 2017)

Palau became the latest country in the north Pacific to declare an El Niño-related State of Emergency. In a statement, the President reported that the total rainfall in the state of Koror over the past four months was the lowest recorded since 1951. The Ngerimel Dam, has run out of water while the only other remaining source of freshwater, the Ngerikiil River, is at a critically low level. Koror and Airai are on an emergency water-rationing schedule, permitting three hours of water access each morning and evening. Water rationing was also initiated in other parts of the country. (OCHA, 28 Mar 2016)

Vanuatu has been grappling with drought since mid-2015 with many of the affected areas being the same as those that were hit by Category 5 Cyclone Pam in March 2015, thus reducing communities’ resilience to further shocks. Reasonable rain over recent months has eased water concerns across of the country but food security remains an ongoing issue in some areas. As Vanuatu is moving into its traditional dry season, there are still concerns that food gardens may not be able to supply sufficient produce to keep all areas and populations appropriately fed later 2016. (OCHA, 06 Jun 2016)

Papua New Guinea was impacted by the El Niño climatic phenomenon from mid-2015 to 2016, causing the affected areas to experience less than average rainfall and a series of frost events. The prolonged anomalous weather pattern has resulted in water shortages and crop damage in a number of localities, particularly in the Highland provinces. In 2015, the European Commission made over €1 260 000 available to enable its partners to provide relief and build resilience amongst the most vulnerable communities. Overall, a total of 75 000 individuals benefited from this aid, which included health and nutrition support, as well as access to clean water and the provision of water and hygiene kits. Farmers also benefited from training on drought resilient agricultural methods. As the dry spell has continued into mid-2016, affecting the food security of close to 1.5 million people nationwide, a further €2 million has been released to support a food assistance initiative by the World Food Programme (WFP). The aid focuses on meeting urgent food needs of 180 000 people in drought-affected areas. (ECHO, 28 Sep 2016)

In October 2016, the World Food Programme announced that it had concluded its food distributions in Papua New Guinea, having reached more than 246,000 people in the highlands as well as Western and Milne Bay Provinces. WFP documented visible signs of recovery as well as anecdotal evidence suggesting the return of crops to areas once affected by drought. However, evidence of the extent of the recovery was limited —while the El Niño event has officially ended, some subsistence farmers reported that they did not expect kaukau (sweet potato) yields until December 2016. WFP will begin an assessment in November 2016 to monitor the extent of the recovery (WFP, 20 Oct 2016)

In Kiribati, a drought situation is affecting several areas including Butaritari, Beru and Kirimati. An emergency situation has not yet been declared. Low water levels are also reported in Nauru, Tokelau and Tuvalu. (OCHA, 13 Mar 2017)

According to the Australia Bureau of Meteorology’s El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Outlook, there is around a 50 per cent chance (twice the normal likelihood) of an El Niño event developing in 2017. Since the beginning of 2017, sea surface temperatures have continued to warm in the Pacific. To mitigate the potential impact of El Niño, countries in the Pacific, including Papua New Guinea, have started to initiate preparedness activities. In 2016, at least 11 countries across the Asia-Pacific region were affected by severe weather events associated with El Niño. While the effects of El Niño have not been consistent they have generally comprised of extended dry spells or drought leading to water shortages, prolonged lean seasons and food shortages. (OCHA, 8 May 2017)

According to the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environmental Programme, a regional sustainable development body, five of eight surveyed models indicated El Niño is likely to form by the third quarter of 2017. The effects of an El Niño event are different for each country. Generally, however, El Niño events are usually associated with lower rainfall with the possibility of droughts, dust, and increased bushfires in countries like Fiji, New Caledonia, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Palau, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu in the Western Pacific. In the Eastern Pacific, including countries like Kiribati, Nauru, Northern Cook Islands and Tuvalu, El Niño events are usually associated with higher rainfall—likely leading to flooding, infrastructure damage and the pollution of water sources. (SPREP, 24 May 2017)