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The 2015-2016 El Niño event: expected impact on food security and main response scenarios in East and Southern Africa - Update 27th October 2015

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El Niño is a periodic climate phenomenon defined by anomalously warm sea surface temperatures in the eastern and central tropical Pacific Ocean which affect local weather worldwide and generally leads to increased drought risk at global level.

In 2015, since July a strong El Niño is being observed with increasing intensity in September and October. It is expected to last for the first 3 months of 2016 and could reach a very high level of intensity in this period. To date, it has already affected climate in many parts of Asia and in the Northern parts of East Africa, causing serious rainfall deficits.

Although the impact on agriculture is not directly proportional to the intensity of the climatic anomalies, the event is expected to impact East and Southern Africa in different ways. In East Africa, for the bimodal areas, El Niño events in the second half of the year usually lead to wetter than average conditions and are generally beneficial for agriculture. In other areas with a long crop season in the second half of the year, such as parts of Ethiopia, Sudan and Eritrea, it can cause drier than average conditions followed by rainfall at harvesting time causing drying problems. For both bimodal and single season zones it can lead to flooding in riverine areas and increase the risk of livestock diseases. On the contrary, in Southern Africa, strong El Niño events frequently cause drought and reduce crop production and this effect could be particularly dangerous considering the low crop production of this region in the 2014-2015 season.

These risks need to be taken into consideration for response planning in East and Southern Africa and this report lists some main recommendations for improved monitoring and humanitarian response in the regions concerned.