Women in search of water in Hadigala district, Siti Zone, Somali Region. 8th July 2015. Photo: Poon Wai Nang/Oxfam

El Niño Food Crisis

Millions of poor people around the world face hunger and poverty this year and the next due to worsening droughts, erratic rains and the onset of possibly the strongest  El Niño ever recorded – the climate phenomenon that develops in the tropical Pacific and brings extreme weather to several regions of the world.

This is a crisis on a huge global scale. Across parts of Africa, the Pacific, Asia, the Caribbean and Central and South America, people in poverty are seeing their crops fail and the price of staple foods soar because of shortages.

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  • In Papua New Guinea, drought and frost are affecting up to 3 million people, destroying crops and livestock. The effects on the landscape are clearly visible and the communities, who previously relied heavily on agriculture and farming, are suffering from severe food shortages. Creeks and streams have dried up, forcing villagers to use alternative sources of water and compromising hygiene practices which can increase cases of water-borne disease.
  • In the Horn of Africa, where more than 19.2 million people are already in need, drought and flash flooding are already having devastating effects. The Government of Ethiopia has said that 10.2 million people in Ethiopia alone are in need of food relief because of poor rainfall.
  • Parts of Somalia — where 3.1 million people are already in need of humanitarian assistance — are expected to be hit with devastating flash floods, affecting over 400,000 people.
  • By February 2016, 3.5 million people in Malawi are expected to experience food shortages. Not only is food production down, but people’s opportunity to earn income to buy food is also badly affected.
  • In Guatemala and Honduras, which have been hit by drought two years running, hundreds of thousands of farmers have suffered the partial or total loss of their crops through drought and changes to the seasons.

The onset of a powerful El Niño is compounding the pressures that many communities already face from climate change, including shifting rainfall patterns and more extreme weather. Worryingly, recent research suggests that these particularly strong El Niño events may occur twice as often as in the past. The countries most affected by the combined impacts of climate change and El Nino are often the least equipped to adapt.

By the end of 2015, the El Niño will reach maximum strength, further increasing the risk of multiple serious humanitarian crises. But agencies such as Oxfam have been monitoring conditions on the ground, helping communities cope with the current food crises and sounding the alarm that more must be done.

What we’re seeing right now is also a sobering reminder of the critical need for increased long-term support to vulnerable countries to adapt to the impacts of growing climate disruption. Prevention is better than cure.

Get the full story in our new report, Early Action on Super Charged El Niño Vital to Save Lives.

Photo: Rodney Dekker/OxfamAUS

Photo: Rodney Dekker/OxfamAUS

What Oxfam is doing to mitigate the impacts of El Niño

  • In Papua New Guinea (PNG), with the help of the Australian Government, we’re supporting communities to remain resilient to drought through our water, sanitation, hygiene, and livelihoods assistance, as well as an emphasis on awareness raising and public health messaging to support good hygiene practices. We’re continuing to monitor the situation closely and coordinate with the PNG Government at national and provincial levels, as well as partners and other NGOs on the ground, to ensure there are effective overall preparedness measures.
  • In Ethiopia, we’re working in areas most affected by food shortages to assist communities facing plummeting livestock prices and poor harvests. This includes a cash-for-work program, the distribution of animal feed and livestock vaccinations and the supply of water through water trucking and repair of boreholes, and public health promotion.
  • In Somalia, we’ve helped to restore community water sources, provided training around the management of water and reducing the impact of floods, and supported people to access nutrition and health services.
  • In Malawi, Oxfam is working with other NGOs to provide cash transfers to people in the districts most affected by food shortages. We’re also increasing activities such as public messaging about nutrition to prepare people for worsening conditions, within our existing long term development projects.
  • In Latin America, Oxfam is helping to build the resilience of communities in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Colombia to ongoing droughts, including through cash transfers, training in soil and water conservation, assistance to farmers to diversify their crops and hygiene promotion to reduce risks of malnutrition.

The ultimate humanitarian impacts of El Niño depends on the urgency of the response now. Please donate to the International Crisis Fund today.

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