By Alisa Tang
BANGKOK, Jan 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Severe El Niño-linked drought has destroyed crops, killed farm animals and dried up water sources across East Asia and the Pacific, aid workers said, and UNICEF appealed for $62 million to assist children impacted by various crises in the region.
Humanitarian agencies are monitoring and responding to droughts and food insecurity in an area from Indonesia and the Philippines, southeast to Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands.
"El Niño is peaking at the moment, and we expect the impacts to come up after the peak," said Krishna Krishnamurthy, a regional climate risk analyst for the World Food Programme.
Krishnamurthy visited East Timor earlier this month and saw areas that were parched even though their rainy season was supposed to have started in November.
"Rivers are completely dry in several parts of the country," he said, noting some hard-hit areas were deceptively green.
"I saw green paddy fields, but it's not rice - it's weeds and grass. It's difficult to monitor remotely (from satellite images). That's why the post-harvest assessment will be quite critical."
The El Niño phenomenon, occurring every few years and caused by unusual warming of the Pacific Ocean, triggers heavy rains and floods in South America and dry, scorching weather in Asia and East Africa, and usually lasts about one year.
UNICEF launched a $62 million appeal on Tuesday to help children affected by drought, conflict and other crises, focusing on areas such as nutrition, health, water and sanitation.
UNICEF has called for $25 million for its work in conflict-affected Kachin, Shan and Rakhine states in Myanmar; $18 million for North Korea; $10 million for conflict-affected Mindanao province in the Philippines; and $5 million for Pacific Island countries.
Here are updates on El Niño and drought from across the region.multi
The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries reported 50 percent less rainfall than normal. In southern Viqueque district, farm animals are falling sick and dying due to lack of feed and dwindling water supplies, though there has been some rain since Jan. 15 which may alleviate the situation, it said.
On Mindanao island, lack of rain has damaged more than 500 hectares of farmland in Zamboanga city, with rice, corn, vegetables and bananas "lost with no chance of recovery", according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
In North Cotabato, also on Mindanao, authorities declared a state of calamity because of $5 million of damage to crops, OCHA said, adding that 85 percent of the country was forecast to face drought by April.
PAPUA NEW GUINEA
An estimated 2.7 million people - more than a third of the population - are affected by a combination of drought and frost, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said, adding that priority needs are food, water and agricultural recovery.
An IOM survey last month found 85 percent of communities assessed in Enga, Simbu and Jiwaka provinces rely on unprotected water sources, and 47 percent of respondents had a household member who had had diarrhoea within four weeks of the survey.
Drought warnings or alerts are in force for Fiji, Tonga and Samoa, Vanuatu and Palau, according to UNICEF, which said more frequent and intense storms are expected in 2016, with Pacific islands suffering the most.
School attendance rates have dropped in the Pacific Islands, where children are hungry and dehydrated, and face a high risk of malnutrition due to crop failure, water shortages and poor sanitation, UNICEF said.
Severe drought in four agricultural provinces in 2015 has led to smaller harvests and reduced access to clean water, impacting the health of women and children, UNICEF said.
In drought-hit provinces, 25,000 children are suffering severe acute malnutrition and require immediate treatment, and there has been a 72 percent increase in diarrhoea among children under 5, it said.
(Reporting by Alisa Tang, editing by Tim Pearce. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)