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Afghanistan: El Niño Outlook for 2019 (as of 20 Jan 2019)

What is an El Niño event?

El Niño is a warming of surface ocean waters in the eastern tropical Pacific. El Niño events tend to happen every three to seven years and can last from six months to two years. El Niño events can have profound effects on weather patterns around the world, impacting on different regions in different ways.

El Niño forecast for 2019

According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), modelling indicates a 75-80 per cent chance that a fully-fledged but weak El Niño event will develop before the end of February 2019. The world is currently in an El Niño alert phase.

El Niño impacts in Afghanistan

In Afghanistan,  El Niño events typically bring above-normal snowfall/rainfall, especially in the country’s north and northeast, as well as warmer temperatures across the country.  With the vast-majority of the country currently affected by drought, additional rainfall may contribute to replenishing depleted water supplies and support drought-recovery. The winter wet season started earlier than normal in 2018,  increasing the potential for snow water storage, which may provide an important source of water for irrigated crops and pasture recovery in the spring and summer of 2019. It won’t be clear until the second quarter of 2019 whether this has translated into conducive planting conditions depending on; a) whether the water has actually been harvested into irrigation reserves or has immediately run-off straightaway into deforested land/barren soil; b) whether families either had the resources or received assistance in time to plant; and c) whether the harvest is sufficient to provide enough for their food and/or economic security through the next winter.

Depending on rainfall patterns, the El Niño event could also generate new risks including flooding of drought-degraded land, landslides and ideal conditions for crop pests due higher humidity. Any crop damage due to floods, landslides or pests could further intensify food insecurity which has been at IPC 3 (crisis) and 4 (emergency) levels in many parts of the country during 2018. Humanitarian organisations are monitoring the situation closely and are developing plans in case these negative impacts come to fruition.

Operation(s)/ Webspace(s): 
United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Original Publication Date: 
20 Jan 2019
Map/Infographic Type: 
Natural Disasters
Coordination hub(s): 
National Level Coordination
Afghanistan: Drought - 2018-2020