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Lessons Learned:

 

 

1.       In some sense, the issuing of a warning raises an expectation of responsibility on the part of the warning agency.As an economic disaster, recovery is politically complex, since without a loss of life a Ďdisasterí takes on a different aspect in the public mind.Some parts of the economic disaster are directly caused by the lack of proper preventative measures; the forced sale of cattle in the face of drought drops the price and impoverishes the farmers.There is an expectation on the part of those warned that the warning agencies will remedy the problems which arise.The justice of this expectation is questionable, since it might be argued that the farmers were saved from greater losses; in effect, the warning allowed them to cut their losses in anticipation of a greater misfortune.Unfortunately, this is impossible to demonstrate, and one might always argue that the warning was misleading, causing an economically disadvantageous decision on the part of the farmer.The lesson learned is that the warning of a possible disaster causes a series of actions, which may be negative over the long run, and there is an expectation of responsibility for these negative impacts.

 

2.       The level of detail of the El Nio forecast is so low that in some cases it tends to mislead rather than inform.While correct in the forecast of a drought in Guanacaste, cattle was moved to an area where no drought was forecast, but which later occurred, creating an intensified crisis.Since the forecast drought turns out to be functional rather than absolute, i.e., an effective drought as a result of rain at the wrong time rather than too little rain--the forecast of a drought may cause counterproductive water conservation measures in water control and hydroelectric facilities.If water is maintained at maximum levels in expectation of drought, short intense storms may cause flooding because of improper preparation.This type of flooding has not actually occurred, but it is a possibility.

 

3.       The determination of the economically appropriate response to a potential El Nio event is difficult because of local variability in climate, along with uncertainty as to the extent of the drought.As a result, the proposed measures may be too extreme, thus causing more harm than good.A year after the end of the 1997-98 event, some questioned whether the recommendation to sell off cattle in fact was justified in view of the economic losses caused.The alternative of keeping the animals and having the cattle lose weight, and having some die, may have been the more appropriate response.

 

4.       The response to the forecast of El Nio must be geared to each national situation.In Costa Rica, a simple announcement resulted in an immediate response on an official level, and the National Meteorological Agency exercised extreme caution in its announcements and advisories to avoid an extreme public reaction.In other Central American countries, the same type of announcement resulted in very little preparation, possibly requiring a more emphatic announcement of the forecast and possible consequences than that required for Costa Rica.

 

5.       Much of the discussion regarding the forecast of El Nio uses concepts and language which are not entirely meaningful to the general public.More effort is necessary to interpret meteorological information about El Nio and present it in language specific to different sectors: Example, agriculture, hydroelectricity, or potable water services.

As an occasional event, there is a tendency for a lack of continuity in preparedness for El Nio.Since governments change every 4 years and personnel in ministries change as well, the technical awareness of preparation and response methods has a tendency to dissipate.