Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Climate Fluctuations, Demography and Development: Insights and Opportunities for Northeast Brazil

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Climate Fluctuations, Demography and Development: Insights and Opportunities for Northeast Brazil

Article excerpt

"The environmental and social problems of the Amazon are rooted in the economic trade-offs faced by a developing country seeking improved welfare, land distribution policy, labor productivity and income distribution, with only recent progress in political stabilization."

Until recently, variations in seasonal-to-annual climate were thought to be impossible to predict with any degree of certainty. Since the 1980s, however, that situation has changed significantly. The international community now has the capacity to predict shifts in seasonal rainfall and temperature for many regions of the tropics. The ability to forecast probable shifts a season to a year ahead is an important scientific breakthrough that offers the potential to help vulnerable tropical regions to cope better with natural variations that greatly affect the livelihoods of populations, especially relating to agriculture, health and water resources. Skillful climate forecasts can also help advance environmentally sustainable development over the longer haul by aiding in planning that reduces massive relocations of vulnerable populations that impose critical stresses on impacted social and ecological environments. Improved adaptation on seasonal-to-annual time scales will inform adaptation strategies for longer-term climate change as well.

Despite the significant progress to date, the routine use of climate information and forecasts to help developing countries cope with climate variability is at present more promise than reality. Climate is just one factor contributing to multifaceted socio-political problems that can lead to massive relocations of vulnerable populations. Regional climate information systems require more comprehensive and informed development to build the trust that is critical to the use of climate information to inform decision-making in challenging environments. Partnerships must build capability in affected regions, with research agendas that comprehend and address social need. (2)

Increased understanding of climate-influence may aid decision opportunities, specifically for the case of Northeast Brazil. To assess these possibilities, it is useful to review seasonal climate elements and information systems and present a historic summary of developments over the last century in Northeast Brazil. The semi-arid state of Ceara, whose development has been constrained by the limited availability of water and high variability in its supply, is a case in point.


For many regions of the world, seasonal climate is strongly influenced by the moderating effect of ocean surface temperature on atmospheric circulation. The best-documented and most important oceanic influence on the atmosphere is El Nino. The term El Nino was first coined more than 100 years ago to describe the unusually warm waters that would occasionally form along the coast of Ecuador and Peru. This phenomenon typically occurred late in the calendar year near Christmas, hence the name El Nino (Spanish for "the boy child," referring to the Christ child). Today the term El Nino is used to refer to a much broader-scale phenomenon associated with unusually warm water that occasionally forms across much of the tropical eastern and central Pacific. The time between successive El Nino events is irregular, but they typically tend to recur every three to seven years.

La Nina, the counterpart to El Nino, is characterized by a shift to unusually cool water across much of the equatorial eastern and central Pacific. A La Nina event often, but not always, follows an El Nino and vice versa. Once developed, both El Nino and La Nina events tend to last for roughly a year, although occasionally they may persist for 18 months or more. El Nino and La Nina (ENSO--El Nino Southern Oscillation) are both a normal part of the earth's climate; there is recorded evidence of their having occurred for thousands of years. …

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