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1.       Were any government reports or statements issued before the impacts of the 1997-98 El Niño appeared?

The government responded to the El Niño in progressive stages, beginning with a series of alerts, followed by awareness meetings and action plans, and finally by decrees and legal declarations.  It must be mentioned that the ‘government’ response was a series of fairly localized activities tied together by various coordinating committees.  The CORECA/MAG group issued a series of warnings, and other government institutions responded as seemed appropriate to them; in the end, the collection of responses seemed quite appropriate, but interestingly enough did not represent a single directed activity. Some of these are listed below:

·         A letter of CORECA to the Minister of Agriculture and Livestock after receiving the message from Eladio Zárate about the forecasted El Niño (May 1997).

·         With the notification of CORECA and the initiation of preparation activities, there were a series of statements and meetings internal to the government ministries.  There was also the initiation of a series of public awareness meetings which were especially directed toward the agricultural sector.

·         A “Decreto” was issued announcing the following measures being taken from 1-5-1997 (CEPAL says August 1997):

a)       State of “necesidad y urgencia por calamidad publica” (‘necessity and urgency due to a public disaster’) because of the impacts of the El Niño phenomenon in the Pacific watershed and the Pacific Maritime Fishery Zone. 

b)       This ‘state or emergency’ makes necessary measures possible

c)       The National Emergency Commission coordinates preventive or reconstruction activities

·         The decreto mentions in March 1997 El Niño has been forecast by the meteorological service (IMN) and the regional service for oceanographic research (SERIO), and that its effect can already be felt in April 1997.

·         Most important governmental report is the mitigation “plan for the effects of El Niño in the agro sector” by MAG-CORECA that proposes a series of actions to mitigate the foreseen impacts. The plan is published in August 1997. There was close collaboration with MAG, CNP, SENARA, INCOPESCA, INS and the BNCR (Banco Nacional de Costa Rica). The plan consisted of three aspects:

a) Early warning

b)       Establishment of a coherent set of actions to control the effects on population, economic activities, and environment

c)       Measurement of the impacts

·         A first workshop organized by the CNE was held in April 1997, before the decreto would become law. This workshop resulted in coordination between authorities of meteorological institutions and responsible institutions of the agricultural, drinking water and electricity sectors. A second meeting was held at the end of May 1997 where the institutions agreed on certain plans of action.

·         In June 1997 the COENOS (Comisión Técnica Consultiva Nacional del Fenómeno ENOS) Commission was installed with representatives of the parties involved, coordinated by the National Meteorological Institute. The commission had the task to evaluate and inform about the development and effects of the ENSO phenomenon as well as the planning of response measures. In September the same year a “Plan Regulador” was presented that proposed a series of measures and executive units. In December a second decreto was presented, including more areas to the state of alert.

Those actions were taken when effects of the phenomenon had already been felt, although the worst part of the impacts was still to come.

2.       Were any reports issued after the impacts appeared?

The FAO/CEPAL report is considered the most complete evaluation of the impacts of the 97/98 Niño in Costa Rica, describing impacts on the different sectors and organization and response of the government. The CEPAL mission consisted of a group of international consultants: Ricardo Zapata, Roberto Jovel, Margarita Flores, Helena Molin, Alfonso Mata and Antonio Tapa, with help of Manuel Jiménez and Ezequiel Garcia of CORECA.

3.       What were the major responses to the event?

In addition to governmental responses mentioned above, there was the formation of the COENOS commission and the release of some “decretos”, catalyzing preventive and reconstructive responses and measures to control negative impacts of the climatic anomalies. CEPAL constructed a table of the collected funds to finance the different measures. It is worth mentioning that funds of the CNE (National Emergency Commission) that were assigned to the prevention of foreseen damages related to El Niño were not approved by the Contraloria (National Controlling Office, as the CNE was legally only assigned to respond to disasters, not to anticipate them. Since October 1999, a new law permits the CNE to also execute preventive measures, giving the institution a broader range of action. The CNE changed its name to ‘Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Desastres’ (National Commission of Prevention of Risks and Disaster Response).

However, until today, public institutions as ICE, AyA and INVU refuse to contribute financially, as was agreed, for the institutional expenses of the CNE. 




Amount in colones

Amount in thousands of dollars




Emergency funds assigned to governmental institutions through the CNE



Decreto 26020 (3-5 May 97)



Decreto 26261 (7-9/16-19 July)



Decreto ENOS 26290 (drought)



Expenses of the Emergency funds (first) CNE, period April 97 until July 98

Family assignments, including fishermen por veda (IMAS)



Reoriented loans



Banco Nacional de Costa Rica, credit line preferentially for cattle raisers



BID, Reoriented credit lines for irrigation (under execution of  SENARA)



Canal Oeste, Irrigation district Arenal-Tempisque         (still to be executed, private funds)



Received donations



PNUD, support to Plan Multisectoral de Mitigación (April of 1998)



            Source: CEPAL, n.d.


Plans and measures of mitigation and prevention that were executed with these collected funds are described in the CEPAL report.

·         A communication campaign has been released through COENOS and the Public Information Sector (SIPE) using mass media. The Costa Rican population was informed of measures to be taken to confront the heat, to control the use of water and to prevent forest fires.

·         MINAE (Ministry of Environment and Energy) together with INS (National Insurance Company) started a campaign to prevent forest fires, especially in the province of Guanacaste. The campaign resulted in a quicker response to fires, which prevented them from causing major damages, although the number of fires was higher than normal.


An action plan to confront the effects of El Niño in the agricultural sector has been published in August 1997, elaborated by MAG and CORECA (Plan para mitigar los efectos del fenómeno de El Niño en el sector Agropecuario). There was close collaboration with MAG, CNP, SENARA, INCOPESCA, INS and the BNCR (Banco Nacional de Costa Rica). The plan consisted of these three aspects:

·         Early warning

·         Establishment of a coherent set of actions to control the effects on population, economic activities, and environment

·         Measurement of the impacts

In the aftermath of the 1997-98 El Niño, queries were made to MAG regarding their evaluation of the event (as specified in their action plan), but MAG reported that no information was available.  However, subsequent conversations with the head of the MAG El Niño effort clarified that, in fact, information collection had begun. However, this coincided with the election of a new President of Costa Rica, the replacement of the head of the El Niño working group, and the interruption and loss of the ongoing efforts. 

CNP (Consejo Nacional de Produccion) worked in the following:

·         Supplementary food for the cattle, subsidizing (transport of) cattle food--molasses, hay, and other animal supplements. In the northern zone farmers received help with grassland, water and alimentation.

·         Support for small productive units

·         Support for projects generating employment

According to Jorge Orozco, one of the responsible persons of CNP for the El Niño campaign, support offered by the CNP was no always appreciated by the farmers, who argued the amounts of money provided were too small. Consequently, parts of the disposable funds have not been spent.

SENARA (Servicio Nacional de Aguas subterraneas Riego y Avenamiento) oriented its action toward works in irrigation.  One of the most concrete responses was the change in the timetable of ongoing development projects in areas potentially affected by drought, in order to give the highest priority to irrigation activities.

INCOPESCA, the national fishery institute, established a plan to help reduce the negative impacts to the fishery sector. Together with IMAS (Instituto Mixta de Ayuda Social) alimentation and training were provided. SERIO (regional service for oceanographic research) distributed satellite imagery to identify zones of major fishery potential both within and outside Costa Rican national waters.

The agricultural sector requested the national banks to establish credit lines for the farmers to help them confront the impacts. Only the Banco Popular and the Banco Nacional de Costa Rica responded positively.

The health sector, with help of the OPS (Organizacion Panamericana de la Salud) focused on efforts at a Central American level in the following: analysis in risks for epidemics, preparation of action plans, integration between countries, transmitting and exchange of information and training of personal in the health sector.

Control of certain health aspects has been reinforced, especially sicknesses transmitted by water or food (i.e., cholera, salmonella) along with sicknesses transmitted through insect vectors (i.e., malaria, dengue).

Campaigns against dengue were carried out including spraying, publicity and visits to communities.

To provide drinking water in dry zones, some new wells have been constructed and sometimes water was rationed. AyA contributed with various works in Guanacaste.

The most dramatic response to the El Niño event was the campaign to reduce impacts on the cattle herd.  Two areas were expected to be especially hard hit: Guanacaste and the Central Pacific region.  In both of these areas, the Ministry of Agriculture recommended a reduction of the cattle herds due to the coming drought.  The recommendation resulted in a massive sell-off of cattle; this caused a drop in the price of the animals due to oversupply, and a redistribution of the animals to the Northern Zone where the drought was forecast as not being severe.

Two unexpected results came of this effort.  First, unexpectedly, the drought did in fact extend to the Northern zone, exceeding the forecast of the weather service.  Thousands of cattle were lost which had been transferred there in response to the drought forecast and the sell-off on the west coast.  The second result was the decapitalization of the cattle sector in the Central Pacific region, due to the forced sale of animals at low prices; as a result, the cattle industry has still not recovered from the drought prevention strategy; there is some question in the ministry whether the sell-off recommendation was in fact correct, over the longer term.


4.       Identify (with citations, if possible) the extent of national research (in the last 20 years) in your country on:

a.        El Niño

IMN, monitoring of the climate through climatologic stations in the country and through contact with international climatic institutions.

SERIO from the school of oceanography and coastal studies (UNA) has an important contribution monitoring Sea Surface Temperatures, using satellite imagery.


b.       Climate-related hazards


Research in this field has been done by UCR: Escuela de Geologia y de Geografia (schools of geology and geography) that both developed a MSc. program in natural disasters. The school of geology has some specialists on landslides.


CIGEFI, in close collaboration with the department of meteorology, school of physics (UCR) has been working on climate related hazards for some time.


UNA: Escuela de Geografia, which has the MADE (Applied Morfoclimatology and Exogene Dynamics) program that is focused on flooding in Costa Rica.


FLACSO: with a virtual MSc program in disasters.


CNE: as most important organization involved with disaster mitigation, keeps track of the major developments.



A good source of (national) research (in the last 20 years) in Costa Rica is: Regional Disaster Information Center Latin America and the Caribbean (CRID):,



2.       Is there a national plan to respond to disasters? [IDNDR to address this question]

Within the framework of the CNE, the national emergency commission has a series of procedures and years of experiences attending emergency situations. See also


3.       Is El Niño explicitly considered to be a disaster in your country? [IDNDR to address this question]

Droughts associated with the El Niño phenomenon are considered a disaster, however, since its development is slow, it does not receive the same attention from the government as other natural disasters. The National Emergency Commission, in charge to respond to disasters is more focused on disasters causing severe problems in a short period of time. The response to droughts has a more preventive character.  With the new emergency law, permitting the CNE to execute also more preventive measures, droughts might receive the same attention as other natural disasters.


4.       Identify (with citations, if possible) any international research about the impacts of El Niño events on your country.

Most studies about the El Niño phenomenon in Costa Rica are done by national or regional (Central American institutions as CORECA or CRRH) (see list of consulted literature and,


Two projects on a broader scale are worth mentioning:

·         Feasibility study for the prediction and amelioration of socioeconomic impacts of El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) in Latin America and the Caribbean (WMO project)

·         Project mitigation of disasters en Central America; improving technical capabilities to mitigate the effects of future El Niño events. (CEPREDENAC- CRRH project)