El Niño Key Messages: Urgent action now can prevent major suffering and loss
Millions of poor and vulnerable people face hunger and poverty this year and next because of record global temperatures, droughts and erratic rains in 2014 and 2015, followed by the development of possibly the most powerful El Niño on record.
This briefing makes the case to urgently scale up humanitarian response in countries already in crisis. It also draws on the experience of the super El Nino in 1997–98, and the inadequate response to the Horn of Africa drought of 2011, to push for early action to save livelihoods elsewhere.
Long-term approaches to reduce food insecurity must be found, and climate change, which is super-charging the effects of El Niño, must be tackled at the UN climate conference in Paris and beyond.
• This is a crisis on a huge global scale. The current El Niño is one of the strongest ever measured, which means there will be more unpredictable weather conditions that will impact people’s food security, lives and livelihoods. This comes on the back of poor growing seasons in 2014/5 in many places. There is already a crisis in some countries – around 18 million people need further assistance now. And in the absence of support, conditions will worsen as the impacts of El Niño bite: 40–50 million people face hunger, disease and water shortages in early 2016.
• Urgent scale-up now will save lives in the worst-affected places. These include areas of Ethiopia,
Papua New Guinea, Malawi, Guatemala, Haiti and Honduras. Some people have already lost everything and require urgent food assistance.
• Early response is required to save livelihoods elsewhere. Many areas of Latin America, Asia,
Southern Africa and the Pacific are feeling the effects of El Niño and need assistance. Funding resilience-building interventions now will safeguard health and livelihoods and prevent a descent into destitution. This is a slow onset crisis – its impacts can be mitigated. The ultimate humanitarian impact depends on the urgency of the response now. A series of studies have found that, ‘a shift to early response does not incur any additional cost, and therefore benefit-to-cost ratios are infinite’.2
• Urgent international support is required to support national government efforts. Many affected governments have been active in preparation and response, and this is clearly mitigating the impact.
But these risk becoming overwhelmed. This global problem requires national governments, donors and the humanitarian community to immediately come together to coordinate and collaborate on responses across the different countries.
• We must not repeat the mistakes of the past. The last major El Niño event in 1997–98 led to widespread loss of life, destruction of infrastructure, displacement of communities and outbreaks of disease in many parts of the world. The humanitarian community said ‘never again’ after late response to the food crisis in the Horn of Africa in 2011 led to 258,000 deaths in Somalia and massive suffering and loss of livelihoods in Kenya and Ethiopia. Leadership is needed now by national governments, the UN and donors to ensure adequate and early action responses.
• Climate change is a key driver of food insecurity, and is super-charging the effects of El Niño.
The impacts of climate change are combining with El Niño to devastating effect, and there is evidence that climate change increases the odds of extreme El Niño events occurring.3 Governments must adopt a new international climate agreement at the UN conference in Paris this December that boosts international finance for adaptation to climate change in poor countries now, and ensures that pledged emissions cuts are strengthened every five years to avoid the worst impacts of a changing climate unfolding in the decades to come.
• Long-term solutions must be found beyond urgent needs. Ultimately, structural vulnerability and inequality must be reduced to address long-term and chronic food insecurity in an increasingly unpredictable climate.