El Niño has returned to a neutral phase, but the danger has not yet passed. The humanitarian impact of the 2015-2016 El Niño is deeply alarming, affecting over 60 million people globally. According to the latest update of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) indicators have been at neutral levels since May 2016. However, the impact of El Niño, particularly on people’s food security and agricultural livelihoods, will continue through the next growing seasons, and the impacts on health, nutrition, water and sanitation are likely to grow throughout the year. East and Southern Africa are the most affected regions, and humanitarian impacts will last well into 2017.
According to WMO’s latest El Niño/La Niña update on 28 July, climate models indicate a 55 to 60 per cent chance of La Niña development in the third quarter of 2016,1 lasting through the remainder of 2016. 2 The main feature of La Niña is the opposite of El Niño: cooler, rather than warmer, sea-surface temperatures in the tropical central and eastern Pacific Ocean. If such an event does develop, current predictions indicate it is likely to be weak. Other factors also significantly influence global climate patterns, and the strength of an El Niño/La Niña event does not necessarily correspond to its climate impacts in different regions of the world. The first six months of this year each set the record as the warmest respective month globally in the modern temperature record, which dates to 1880.
El Niño boosted global temperatures from October 2015 onwards, but these record numbers follow an underlying trend. Previous record levels, such as in 1998, have also been associated with El Niño events, but even as the recent El Niño tapers off, global temperatures continue at record levels because of overall global warming.
The dramatic El Niño event that unfolded in 2015-2016 hit the poorest and most vulnerable communities hardest, disproportionally affecting women and girls. With coping capacities already eroded due to impacts exacerbated by El Niño, even a weak La Niña event may have significant humanitarian impacts in some areas. Areas now experiencing drought could face flooding, and areas that have received excessive rainfall could experience drought. Against the background of accumulated El Niño-induced humanitarian needs the impacts of La Niña conditions on people’s lives could be particularly damaging in the already affected regions, namely Southern Africa, parts of eastern and western Africa, Central America, South America and Asia and the Pacific. In addition to the continued provision of urgent and life-saving action to respond to critical food, water, nutrition, health and agricultural livelihoods requirements, it is also vital to consider transitioning La Niña preparedness and early action needs into the ongoing El Niño response. This is in order to strengthen efforts to build climate resilience and the capacity to respond to future shocks.
23 countries have presented costed response plans, with a total requirement of $5 billion. To date, a funding gap of $3.4 billion remains, leaving 60 million people at significant risk of further suffering and loss.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.