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The Hon. Dr Sharman Stone MP
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Federal Member for Murray
12 August 2004
Understanding why an El Niño weather pattern can increase winds in one Pacific Island country and rain in another and how this can impact on these communities is the focus of a training workshop conducted by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology in Tonga this week.
Dr Sharman Stone, Parliamentary Secretary with Ministerial responsibility for the Australian Bureau of Meteorology said the Tongan workshop is the latest in a series of workshops for Pacific Island nations as part of a $2 million AusAID funded project.
"Through this project Pacific Island countries will be better able to predict the variations in seasonal weather associated with climate cycles such as an El Niño," Dr Stone said.
"El Niño conditions in the Pacific can affect each island nation differently and can significantly set back island economies and development.
"In Kiribati for example, an El Niño can bring strong westerly winds that are associated with increased seaweed growth around the islands and an increase in fish mortality and pollution. Not only does this disrupt the local fish supplies, it could increase costs for the potentially lucrative local tourism industry.
"Throughout the Pacific islands, El Niño events can produce abnormal weather conditions that can, for example, compound the problems of countries like Tuvalu and Kiribati that are already feeling the effects of the slow but inexorable rise of sea level.
"Australia has considerable expertise in weather and climate. It is ideally placed to help Pacific countries improve their ability to make seasonal predictions and help them to use them to reduce their vulnerability to the extremes that El Niño and La Niña events can bring to the region.
"Since 1998 , 20 people from Pacific Island nations have trained at the Bureau's headquarters in Melbourne and there are now Australian-trained weather forecasters and climatologists in Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. "
Dr Stone said an important aspect of the project was to raise the profile of meteorological services to Island governments and to highlight the benefits that a national meteorological service would continue to bring through the implementation of the project.
"Emphasising the importance of risk management will assist Pacific Island nations cope with weather and climate related events and the devastating impacts they can cause," Dr Stone said.
The project - Enhanced applications of climate predictions in Pacific Island countries - aims to:
The Tongan workshop includes representatives of Tongan industry, commerce, tourism and government whose activities and interests are affected by climate variability, including El Niño events; it concludes later this week. For more information, visit http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/pi-cpp/index.shtml