PETALING JAYA: This year’s El Nino weather phenomenon could be the strongest in over half a century but it may turn out to be a mixed blessing for Malaysia.
Climate expert Prof Datuk Dr Azizan Abu Samah said less rainfall due to El Nino could affect the Klang Valley’s water woes and padi planting in Kedah.
However, it may also lessen the chances of severe year-end floods in states such as Kelantan and Pahang.
“In some ways the effect could be positive for us,” said Azizan, who is the director of the University of Malaya’s National Antarctic Research Centre.
Last week, the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said this year’s El Nino, which began in March and is forecast to last for about a year, could be the worst in 65 years.
El Nino is an irregular weather phenomenon which causes sea temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean to rise, leading to unusually heavy rains in some parts of the world and drought elsewhere.
The last extreme El Nino took place in 1997-98, causing the hottest year on record as well as floods, cyclones, droughts and huge damage to food production.
Azizan said lower rainfall had decreased water levels at rivers such as Sungai Johor, causing a month-long scheduled water distribution exercise in some areas in Johor Baru and Kota Tinggi.
On whether El Nino could lead to dry taps in the Klang Valley, Azizan said the current water woes in the area was due to a low reserve margin for treated water, not a looming shortage of raw water supply.
A strong El Nino could cause water levels in Selangor rivers to drop, which could aggravate serious reserve margin problems but the earliest this might happen was during the dry season in February next year, he said.
In Kedah, very low rainfall early next year could affect the planting season in March, but Malaysia will not be the only country at risk.
A drought in northern Australia, for example, may affect soybean and wheat harvests.
The potential effects of a strong El Nino on Malaysia are not all negative, though.
The risk of massive flooding in north-eastern peninsular Malaysia could be lower with less than usual rainfall during the year-end period.
“In the event that soybean harvests in countries such as Australia are hit, Malaysian palm oil, which is an alternative product, could stand to gain,” said Azizan.
Meteorological Department National Weather Centre senior meteorologist Dr Hisham Mohd Anip said there were already signs of significantly reduced rainfall in the past few months.
He said the people of Sabah and Sarawak would be the first to feel the impact of the El Nino as the states were located closer to the Pacific Ocean.
“The rainfall in Kudat, Kota Kinabalu, Tawau and several areas in Sarawak has dropped by more than 50%,” he said.
Hisham said the department was providing regular El Nino updates to state-level officials to help them prepare in the event that the situation worsened.