How is Asia Pacific preparing for El Niño?

El Niño

APAC often bears the brunt of El Niño, the recurring climatic phenomenon known to cause reduced rainfall and higher than normal temperatures in the region. Over the last few weeks, India, Malaysia and Indonesia have been making headlines for their preparation tactics. Here’s a summary of how they’re working to mitigate the effects of El Niño in susceptible industries like food and agriculture.

Malaysia is cloud seeding to prepare for drought

Malaysia has turned to cloud seeding in preparation for the hot and dry conditions brought by El Niño. Currently the world’s second largest palm oil producer, Malaysia has long used this technique to counter water shortages and divert monsoons away from crops. But how does cloud seeding actually work?

Scientists have developed a sodium chloride-based solution which is sprayed into the clouds at 5,000 feet to absorb and catch moisture, stimulating water droplets to increase in size and burst, essentially replicating the effect of rain.

Recently, cloud seeding helped improve water levels of two reservoirs in Penang which dropped to half their capacity, and as many as 70 dams around the country have also been restored thanks to this solution. The water reserves in these dams help sustain Malaysia’s crop irrigation system.

Climate schools in Indonesia educate farmers on mitigation techniques and community firefighters are put on standby

For more than a decade, Climate Field Schools, established by the country’s Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysics Agency, have equipped farmers with knowledge on resilient cropping practices. This year, farmers are focusing on timing their rice harvest to occur before El Niño so they can avoid any potential water shortages.

Palm-producing areas like Surabaya have been placed under emergency alerts in anticipation of forest and peatland fires brought by dry weather from El Niño. To further mitigate the spread of forest fires, more than 11,000 community firefighters across Indonesia have been mobilised by the country’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry as the first line of defence against wildfires. According to Indonesia’s government, these community firefighters, also known as Masyarakat Peduli Api, are prepared with better equipment and resources after dealing with major wildfire crises in 2015 and 2019. This includes financial support from both the state and private sector, greater coordination between regional governments, military and firefighters, and even a drone to monitor larger areas.

India confronts dry spell with customised weather forecasts and increased funding in the agricultural sector

El Niño is threatening the livelihoods of millions of farmers in the world’s fifth largest economy by disrupting the regular monsoon season that irrigates half of the country’s farmlands.

The India Meteorological Department has prepared for anticipated droughts by offering individualised agro-meteorological advisory services and forecasts for each of the country’s 700 districts that will be disseminated through Krishi Vigyan Kendras, a network of federally-run farm centres. This is in addition to the recently announced Agricultural Accelerator Fund initiative to increase the range of digital solutions available to farmers and improve farming practices.

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