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The Unprecedented Effects of El Niño in Nigeria

The Unprecedented Effects of El Niño in Nigeria


Oladosu Adebola Oluwaseun

Photo credit; HK studio

The normal room temperature is typically considered to be around 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit (20-22 degrees Celsius). However, over time, unprecedented changes in global climate patterns have been observed, leading to phenomena such as El Niño. El Niño is a climatic phenomenon characterized by the abnormal warming of sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. While it has global impacts, its effects are particularly significant in Nigeria, a country located in West Africa. El Niño events can disrupt weather patterns, leading to extreme conditions such as droughts, temperature changes, and in some cases, flooding. These impacts can have far-reaching consequences on various aspects of life in Nigeria, including agriculture, water resources, health, and the economy.

One of the most notable effects of El Niño in Nigeria is its impact on agriculture. The country relies heavily on rain-fed agriculture. Already, the compounding effects of El Nino that make it difficult for people to predict rainfall patterns lead to changes in rainfall patterns as well. This in return has a significant impact on crop production. During El Niño events, Nigeria typically experiences below-average rainfall, leading to drought conditions in some regions; the Northern part of the country. In Nigeria, agriculture is a climate-sensitive sector, with crops like maize and cassava being vital for food security and economic stability. All crops require a specific temperature; such as maize has an ultimate temperature of (25-28 degrees Celsius) while cassava requires (25-29 degrees Celsius). The El Nino effect is felt when there is a rise in temperature to more than 29 degrees Celsius which makes the crop particularly susceptible to these changes. Invariably, this results in decreased yields and lower quality of these crops, affecting not only food availability but also farmers' livelihoods and the overall economy. This is because rather than 10 cobs of maize, it could produce 2-3 cobs of maize; the same for the cassava. This can result in crop failures, reduced yields, and food shortages. Farmers are often forced to cope with water scarcity and poor soil moisture, which can further exacerbate the situation.

Also, the current warming trends in Nigeria, reaching 40 degrees Celsius, are exacerbating health issues due to the intense heat waves associated with El Niño effects. The normal body temperature of a human is typically around 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius) depending on the age. For the past three months, such extreme temperatures have led to a range of health complications, particularly for vulnerable populations such as the elderly, children, and those with pre-existing health conditions. Heat-related illnesses like heat exhaustion and heatstroke have become more common during prolonged heatwaves, placing additional strain on healthcare systems.

Moreover, El Niño's effect is visible on water resources. Nigeria is currently experiencing a longer dry season otherwise known as “dry spell”. A situation where our water bodies are stressed out with an intermediate rain of less than 30 minutes, which does not cushion the effect but rather adds more pressure. During this period which has started since January 2024, wells dry up, and streams are lost. The phenomenon disrupts normal rainfall patterns, causing drought conditions in some regions. Those hard the most are women and girls who are left with no option but to trek long distances to access water. This is due to the societal responsibility of women to collect water and other household chores. Additionally, the long treks to water sources expose them to safety risks, including harassment and assault.

In other to mitigate the impacts of El Niño, Nigeria needs to take proactive measures to build resilience and adapt to changing climatic conditions. This includes investing in climate-smart agriculture practices, such as rainwater harvesting and drought-resistant crop varieties, to improve food security and agricultural productivity. Improving water management practices and infrastructure can also help to ensure reliable access to water for both agricultural and domestic use.

In conclusion, El Niño has been an existential issue in Nigeria, affecting the different sectors of our economy not just limited to agriculture, water resources, and health. To address these challenges, the country needs to prioritize climate change adaptation and mitigation measures. By building resilience and adapting to changing climatic conditions, Nigeria could beat the impacts of El Niño and other climate-related challenges, ensuring a more sustainable future for its people.

Oladosu Adebola Oluwaseun is an environmental journalist and a graduate student of the International Institute of Journalism (IIJ)

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