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World Monitoring Organization Reports Record Breaking Heat Waves In 2006

The World Meteorological Organization reports 2006 was the sixth warmest year on record. In its yearly roundup of worldwide weather patterns, the WMO says, many parts of the world also experienced record drought and flooding. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from WMO headquarters in Geneva.

The World Meteorological Organization says many countries and regions had record-breaking heat waves this year. For instance, WMO says, Britain lived through the hottest Autumn since the 17th century, and the Netherlands and Denmark since the early 18th century.

WMO says Australia and Brazil also experienced record-setting heat waves, as did many parts of the United States. Normally glacial Canada had its mildest winter and spring on record.

WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud says severe, prolonged drought gripped many parts of the world, particularly, the greater Horn of Africa.

"It affected more than 10 million people," said Michel Jarraud. "That also included consequences for food security. There was severe food shortage in several countries in the greater Horn of Africa. In Somalia, for example, which is, as you know, a country suffering from many problems, the drought was the worst in over a decade."

He says Asia was affected by drought as well.

"In China, millions of hectares were damaged, and there were drinking water shortages in Eastern China," he said.

In Southwestern Australia, Jarraud says, the drought has continued for more than 30 years. And, drought in the United States contributed to a record wildfire season. He says some of the same places that suffered from severe drought also experienced severe flooding. He says this is not unusual.

"One of the reasons is that, when the soil is extremely dry, it is very hard, and, the water, when the rain comes, cannot penetrate, and tends to turn into severe flood," said Michel Jarraud. "In Africa, there were extremely severe problems in Niger. Niger experienced the highest rainfall since 1923 in August and also a very rare flooding in the Sahara in Tindouf in February. There were also some of the worst floods in 50 years in the greater Horn of Africa."

WMO says heavy rainfall also hit Bolivia and Ecuador, Eastern Europe and the northeastern U.S. It says Vancouver in Canada experienced its wettest month ever in November.

WMO scientists say several deadly typhoons moved across Southeast Asia. One of the worst was Typhoon Durian, which affected about 1.5 million people in the Philippines in November and December.

They say the ozone hole over the Antarctic in September was the biggest ever recorded. And, 2006 saw the continuing pattern of sharply decreasing Arctic sea ice. They say the Arctic ice is decreasing by about 60,000 square kilometers a year because of climate change. That is an area bigger than Switzerland.