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El Ninos Cost Much More Than Once Believed


  • A new study found that the economic effects of El NINO events are much more than previously thought, amounting to trillions of dollars.
  • In 2016, a strong El NINO event occurred, and one is currently developing with concerns about its possible effects.


GS Paper-1: Important Geophysical phenomena such as earthquakes, Tsunami, Volcanic activity, cyclone etc., geographical features and their location-changes in critical geographical features (including water-bodies and ice-caps) and in flora and fauna and the effects of such changes.

Mains Question

How can we lessen the financial effects of the upcoming event, especially since the previous strong El Nio occurred in 2016, given that El Nios happen every three to five years and vary in strength? Talk about (250 words)


  • El NINO episodes have long been acknowledged as important climate phenomena with worldwide repercussions.
  • But according to a recent study appearing in the journal Science, the economic costs of El NINOs are much larger and more pervasive than previously thought.
  • The study, undertaken by scholars from Dartmouth College, casts doubt on the commonly held belief that El Ninos are generally benign and may even have certain advantages.
  • Scientists warn that the prices could soar with a new El NINO developing, calling for a fuller comprehension of these phenomena and their effects on the economy.

The Real Price of El NINO

  • The Dartmouth study found that the typical El NINO causes the world economy to suffer losses of almost $3.4 trillion. These estimates greatly exceed earlier estimates, such as the World Bank’s estimate of $45 billion in losses for the 1997-1998 events.
  • To put this into perspective, the powerful El NINO of 1997-1998 resulted in a stunning $5.7 trillion in costs.
    • The Dartmouth research team claims that their study is unique in that it takes a thorough look at the long-term economic effects of El NINO.
  • Macroeconomic Implications and Long-Term repercussions: According to the researchers, the repercussions of El NINO ripple across economies for extended durations, often lasting indefinitely and up to 10 years.
    • When resources are diverted away from technology developments and innovation to support recovery and rebuilding efforts, economies suffer the consequences.
    • This approach has large opportunity costs that will have an ongoing impact on development and growth.

Looking into the El NINO phenomena

  • El NINO is the term used to describe the periodic warming of the Central-east Equatorial Pacific.
  • The trade winds, which are east-west winds that blow close to the equator, diminish and surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific rise during El NINO.
  • Easterly trade winds often move from the Americas to Asia. They sputter and alter course because of El NINO, becoming westerlies and carrying warm water from the western Pacific to the Americas.
  • Although upwelling, the process by which deeper waters rise to the surface, is decreased during an El NINO, which in turn reduces phytoplankton along the coast, deeper waters are typically more nutrient-rich.
    • Fish that consume phytoplankton are impacted, then higher-level organisms in the food chain.
    • Tropical species are also transported by warmer water to colder regions, upsetting numerous ecosystems.
  • Airflows over the ocean are impacted by the surface-level redistribution of heat. The Pacific westerlies are warmer and moister while the easterlies are stable and dry.
  • El NINO is a vague translation of “little boy” or even “Christ child” in Spanish.
  • The Pacific Ocean encompasses almost one-third of the world, therefore fluctuations in its temperature and resultant alteration of wind patterns upset global weather patterns. In the 1600s, South American fishermen may have noted unusually warm water in the Pacific Ocean. In the past, it was also known as “El NINO de Navidad” because its peak occurs in December.

El NINO’s effects on the region

  • El NINO has a global impact that differs in how it affects different locations. While its effects are most noticeable during the northern winter, it also has an impact on and reduces storm activity in the Atlantic.
  • In contrast, it causes dryness in southeast Africa, southern Asia, northern Australia, and the Amazon, which frequently leads to increased wildfire activity. El NINO also causes warmer temperatures in much of Asia, the American Pacific Northwest, and Australia. It also causes increased precipitation in the southern and western parts of the United States, Peru, Uruguay, Argentina, some regions of east central Africa, and parts of Southeast Asia.

A Key to Understanding Climate Change: El NINO in Context

  • Understanding the economic harm caused by El NINOs is essential to understanding the wider effects of human-induced climate change, given the similarities between the effects of El NINO and those of global warming.
    • According to the Dartmouth researchers, our economies are not adequately ready for and acclimated to the current climatic variability.It is essential to address these vulnerabilities and reduce possible losses if El NINO events increase in frequency and severity.
  • Although climate scientists have endorsed the Dartmouth report, some economists are still dubious. They consider the damage estimates in the report to be too high and dispute their validity.
  • According to a macroeconomist at the University of Cambridge, not all nations are negatively impacted by El NINO; some even benefit from its growth-promoting benefits. This gap is shown by his research on the economics of 21 different countries during previous El Ninos. It’s crucial to remember that the Dartmouth study examines the worldwide impact.

February 2024