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The Looming El Niño Could Cost the World Trillions of Dollars

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While the effects of El Niño are more concentrated in the tropics, other regions will feel the heat as well. The southwestern United States tends to get more rain, while the northern parts of the country warm up. One upside: El Niño typically reduces hurricane activity in the Atlantic Ocean. 

Courtesy of Christopher Callahan

Tropical countries tend to be the most economically vulnerable both because of their proximity to El Niño and because they often have lower GDPs than nations in Europe and other northern regions. For example, the countries indicated in red on the map above show huge drops in GDP per capita during the 1997-98 El Niño. 

Generally speaking, agriculture that’s vulnerable to changes in rainfall makes up a larger share of GDP for low-income nations, so they have relatively more to lose if the weather turns. Subsistence farmers in particular are at risk of not only losing their livelihood, but also not being able to feed their families. Things are especially precarious for farmers who lack irrigation systems, as the shock of drought is more immediate.


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