Malawi + 15 more

La Niña events impacts Eastern and Southern Africa

Originally published
View original


As of 11 August, there was an approximate 55–60% chance of La Niña conditions developing during the last quarter of 2016 and first quarter of 2017. It is forecasted to be weak and short-lived.

La Niña typically brings extreme weather to the same regions most affected by El Niño, where people’s coping capacities have already been eroded. La Niña causes opposite conditions to those associated with El Niño: areas now experiencing drought are likely to face flooding, and areas that have seen excessive rainfall are likely to experience drought. The effects of the 2015/2016 El Niño will continue to be felt over the coming months, and estimates indicate that it will take approximately two years for communities to recover, even if agricultural conditions improve later this year. La Niña is likely to exacerbate the negative impacts of El Niño and stretch affected communities to their absolute limits.

La Niña ordinarily lasts between 6 and 24 months. Since 1950, there have been 23 El Niño and 14 La Niña events. Among the 14 La Niña events, nine came immediately after an El Niño year.


La Niña increases the likelihood of both above-average and below-average rainfall in certain areas of eastern Africa. A potential La Niña is likely to have the most severe impact on Kenya and south-central Somalia. Conflict and displacement will exacerbate the impacts of the climate conditions in many of the affected countries.

Drier than normal conditions are particularly likely between November 2016 and March 2017 in southern Ethiopia, south and central Somalia, northwestern and eastern Kenya, and northeastern Tanzania. These would negatively affect crops harvested in February and March, worsen livestock body conditions, and trigger increased livestock migration, which facilitates the spread of livestock diseases.

Above-average rainfall is likely to bring relief to areas currently impacted by drought and enhance restoration of pasture and crop production. However, localised flooding is likely in northern Ethiopia, central and southern Sudan, and eastern South Sudan, with associated damage to crops, livestock, and infrastructure.

El Niño has already triggered drought in Ethiopia, northern Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti and eastern Chad. As of 4 July, approximately 28 million people in the Horn of Africa region were in Crisis or Emergency food security outcomes (IPC Phases 3 and 4) and in need of immediate humanitarian assistance. Severe water shortages have resulted in the use of unprotected water sources, which increases the risk of waterborne diseases.


Ethiopia is currently experiencing its worst drought in 50 years. The worst affected areas include Wag Himra, East and West Hararghe, and pastoral areas in Shinile and southern Afar. Humanitarian needs have more than tripled since 2015. 9.7 million people are in need of food assistance, more than 2.3 million people need immediate agricultural support, and the number of people needing emergency health interventions nearly doubled from 3.6 million in December 2015 to 6.8 million in March 2016. 6.8 million children are at risk of hunger, disease, and lack of water. The severe acute malnutrition (SAM) caseload is expected to increase by 80%, from a yearly average of 250,000 to 458,000 children in 2016.

La Niña increases the probability of below-average rainfall during the deyr/hageya season (October–December) in central and southern Somali regions, resulting in earlier depletion of water and pasture, which will likely cause declines in livestock body conditions, productivity, and market values.

Short-term and seasonal forecasts suggest that heavy rainfall in the coming months, induced by La Niña, is likely to lead to significant flooding, particularly in northern parts of the country. Poor households will face displacement, loss of crops, and loss of livelihood assets.

The situation is also exacerbated by the large refugee population of 737,000, including 286,000 from South Sudan.


Countrywide, close to 4.7 million people (equivalent to 38% of the population) are in need of humanitarian assistance, of which 1.7 million are in Puntland and Somaliland. More than 950,000 people are severely food insecure (IPC Phases 3 and 4). Severe drought has seriously affected parts of Puntland and Somaliland. Access to safe water has been severely reduced and the cereal harvest in Somaliland is 87% below the five-year average. The use of unsafe water significantly increases the risk of waterborne and vector-borne diseases. More than 10,000 cases of acute watery diarrhoea/cholera have been reported (140% of cases reported in 2015). As a result of the drought, there has been a large-scale abnormal outmigration of livestock in northern Somalia, including 60–70% of households from pastoral areas of Puntland.

Erratic rains have resulted in Gu harvests (July and August) of 30-50% below the post-war (1995-2015) average. Of particular concern are riverine areas of Hiiraan, where poor rainfall and flooding has destroyed approximately 80% of standing crops. The Gu harvest represents one of the two main agricultural seasons in Somalia. Seasonal forecasts and the probability of La Niña conditions throughout the deyr season, the second main agricultural season, indicate below-average rainfall from October to December. This is expected to lead to below-average deyr harvests (January 2017) as well as fail to adequately restore pasture and water resources. Southern agro-pastoral areas are of highest concern, where below-average deyr production is likely to follow significantly below-average gu production. Food security is expected to deteriorate throughout much of Somalia from October to January 2017.

The situation is exacerbated by insecurity, which is constraining humanitarian access. The anticipated return of a large number of refugees from Kenya following the announced closure of Dadaab refugee camp is also expected to significantly increase the number of people requiring humanitarian assistance.


4.6 million people are acutely food insecure, including more than 100,000 in Emergency (IPC Phase 4). Approximately 3.5 million people are affected by El Niño, which has influenced delayed rains, below-average rainfall and intermittent dry spells. People are in affected in 82 localities in Abyei, Al Gezira, Blue Nile, all Darfur states, Gedaref, Kassala, all Kordofan states, Red Sea, Sennar and White Nile. This includes 1.5 million women and over 680,000 children. Conflict in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile exacerbates the situation, as it causes displacement, disrupts livelihoods and markets, and constrains humanitarian access.

In June and July, above-average rainfall in most surplus-producing areas of east and central Sudan has positively affected crop production and generated sufficient pasture for animals in most areas. However, excessive rainfall caused severe flash floods that damaged homes, infrastructure and productive assets, particularly in the states of North Darfur, West Kordofan, South Kordofan, Blue Nile, Gezira, Khartoum, and Kassala.

La Niña is likely to result in above-average rainfall over many parts of Sudan during the main 2016 rainy season (July – September). This increased rainfall will likely result in at least average 2016/17 crop production, but may also cause flooding in flood-prone areas of central and southern Sudan. More refugees are expected to arrive, fleeing conflict in South Sudan, which will add to needs.


4.8 million people, more than one-third of the population, are affected by severe food insecurity (IPC Phases 3, 4, and 5). Emergency (IPC Phase 4) food security outcomes persist in parts of Unity, Upper Nile, Northern Bahr el Ghazal, and Western Bahr el Ghazal. The rising food insecurity and worrying levels of malnutrition coincide with the lean season (April to July), when household food reserves are low and market dependency high.

Drought-like conditions, combined with economic crisis and insecurity has particularly affected Northern Bahr el Ghazal, where 845,000 people are projected to be food insecure and global acute malnutrition is double the emergency threshold at 33.3%. A small number of households in Aweil East and Aweil North have exhausted coping strategies and are likely to be in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5).

La Niña is likely to result in above-average rainfall in South Sudan. Overall, this is likely to lead to an improvement in crop production, but also result in potential flooding in eastern parts of the country, particularly Eastern Equatoria, Jonglei and Upper Nile.

A new wave of conflict is expected, and the disruption and displacement means the situation could rapidly reach catastrophic proportions.


Food security is deteriorating in line with the lean season, especially in Garissa and Tana River counties. However, the lean season started a month earlier than normal in the northeastern pastoral areas, in July, due to poor rains. The long rains maize harvest is expected to be below average, which represents 70% of annual production. Rangeland conditions in most areas are below normal and continue to deteriorate. Some households migrated their livestock to dry-season grazing areas two month early, in June rather than August. The majority of households are in Stressed food security conditions (IPC Phase 2).

La Niña is likely to result in below-average rainfall in northwestern and eastern Kenya, both during the short rains in late 2016, where the forecast is 50-60% of average rainfall for many parts of eastern Kenya, and possibly also during the March–May 2017 long rains, which likely will increase food insecurity. The announced closing of Dadaab refugee camp, in northern Kenya, hosting close to 350,000 refugees, will also increase the food insecurity of this population, and could place additional strain on host populations in this area.


Although little information exists on the situation in Eritrea, due to the fact that the government restricts access of humanitarian actors inside the country, satellite imagery from late 2015 showed areas of Eritrea’s highlands and western lowlands with crops around 50%-70% of normal. The effects of El Niño and pre-existing factors related to household food and livelihood security have exacerbated women and children’s vulnerability. Malnutrition is high among children under five, especially in the lowlands. Acute malnutrition remains one of the major underlying causes of death in the country. The kiremt rains (June to September) started on time, indicating good prospects for agricultural yields. La Niña is likely to bring wetter conditions to Eritrea.


Early June forecasts indicate that La Niña is likely to develop during the start of the 2016/17 agricultural season (October–April). In southern Africa, La Niña tends to be associated with above-average rainfall, although initial model forecasts suggest that precipitation will be near average for October–December. The Subtropical Indian Ocean Dipole phenomenon influences El Niño and La Niña’s impact on rainfall in southern Africa; more information on this will be available later in the year

Should rainfall be above average, it is likely to speed up the regeneration of pastureland and lead to above-average crop production for the summer harvest (April­–July). This would also improve labour opportunities and income levels for households, currently experiencing the worst El Niño-induced drought in 35 years. However, positive effects of La Niña on crop production would only alleviate food insecurity from February 2017. Furthermore, excessive rainfall increases the risk of localised flooding, the risk of seed loss, crop damage, livestock morbidity and mortality, and infrastructure damage. There is also an increased likelihood of cyclones forming in the Mozambique channel, with associated potential landfall and flooding across the region.

Currently, nearly 40 million people are food insecure, including 23 million who require urgent humanitarian assistance. Approximately 2.7 million children face severe acute malnutrition. Food insecurity is expected to peak during the October 2016 to March 2017 lean season. Agricultural production has been crippled and almost half a million drought-related livestock deaths have been reported while water sources and reservoirs are severely depleted. Labour opportunities have also been severely affected and poor farming households are unable to fulfil their food requirements due to limited income earning opportunities. The drought has compounded existing vulnerabilities, resulting in severe food shortages, particularly in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Swaziland, and Lesotho.


El Niño brought below-average rainfall resulting in drought in the south and parts of the central region of the country. Poor households in these areas are having increasing difficulties meeting their basic food needs due to inadequate supplies and high staple food prices. 1.5 million people are facing severe food insecurity (Crisis and Emergency), and this number is expected to rise to 2 million during the peak of the lean season (October 2016–March 2017). 850,000 children are affected by the drought.

La Niña will likely lead to above-normal rainfall between January and March 2017, increasing the chance of moderate to severe flooding in some river basins in the south and central regions. Vulnerable displaced households in these flood prone areas are expected to need humanitarian assistance, particularly related to food, shelter, WASH and provision of health services. The impact of the current effects of the El Niño as well as the potential flood risks on vulnerable populations is exacerbated by ongoing conflict, which has displaced an unspecified number of people and also disrupted food supplies from the north to the south.


Crisis food insecurity continues in southern districts, as well as some marginal areas in the extreme north, but the bulk of the traditional cereal-producing areas of the north are Stressed. The situation in the north is expected to deteriorate to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) for poor households between October and January, once they have depleted own-produced stocks. An estimated 4.1 million people, equivalent to 44% of the rural population, will be food insecure by the first quarter of 2017; this is an increase of 47% from the first quarter of 2016. The nutrition situation is deteriorating, with GAM rates well above 10% in five districts. La Niña is expected to bring with it above average rainfall, increasing the likelihood of extreme flooding in Zimbabwe. This can damage crops and worsen the situation for the already vulnerable population.


As a result of the El Niño, 25% of the population is affected by drought. Currently, more than 500,000 people are food insecure and 709,000 people are projected to be food insecure at the height of Lesotho’s lean season (November–March 2017). The drought has resulted in crop production contributing to less than 10% of annual cereal requirements. There is also a decline in the access to safe water and 23% of communities are using unprotected water sources. Chronic malnutrition is at 33% and a large increase in diarrhoeal diseases has been reported.

La Niña conditions, with above average rain, are likely during the start of the next cropping season (November–January). This is expected to have some positive impact on the current situation in the country, although it will likely take a while to recover from the current dire situation. More opportunities for labour are expected to gradually contribute to improved food access among very poor and poor households.


Malawi is facing its worst food security crisis in over a decade. 6.5 million people – 39% of the population – including 3.5 million children, will not be able to meet their annual minimum food requirements during the 2016/17 consumption period. This is a 30% increase from 2015/2016. Large populations of very poor and poor households, especially in the south, are currently Stressed and facing Crisis. 24 districts have been affected.

National food availability is at its lowest level in the past ten years and June maize prices were 80% above 2015 prices and 193% above the five-year average. More than 42.4% of all children in Malawi are stunted.

Early forecasts indicate that a La Niña event likely will result in average to above-average rainfall during the next cropping season (November–January), thus having a positive impact on the situation. However, due to the current dire situation, even a normal start to the 2016/17 cropping season is not expected to improve acute food insecurity outcomes in the immediate future.


The drought in Swaziland has significantly decreased crop production, killed livestock and devastated livelihoods throughout the country. Some 350,000 people – 30% of the population – including 189,000 children need emergency food assistance. The number of people expected to endure some degree of food insecurity is expected to rise to 640,000 between March and May 2017. The most affected regions are Lubombo and Shiselweni. Water shortage and deteriorating sanitation are increasing the risk of waterborne diseases. La Niña conditions are expected to result in above average rain, with possibility of flooding and storms.


Main and off-season harvests were well below average or failed in parts of southern Madagascar due to El Niño-induced drought. In the country’s seven most affected districts (Amboasary, Ambovombe, Tsihombe, Beloha, Bekily, Ampanihy and Betioky), 1.1 million people are food insecure, including 665,000 severely food insecure. GAM rates of 8% have been recorded across the most affected districts, with 10% in certain areas. In the worst affected pockets of Androy region in the south, households are expected to face large food consumption gaps - in line with Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes - between October and January 2017. La Niña increases the chance of above-average rainfall as well as the likelihood of the formation of cyclones in the Mozambique channel, with possible landfall on Madagascar.