El Niño: Overview of impacts and humanitarian needs in Africa


The humanitarian impact of the 2015-2016 El Niño is deeply alarming, affecting over 60 million people globally. The El Niño phenomenon is now in a neutral phase, but food insecurity caused by drought is not likely to peak before December. East and Southern Africa are the most affected regions, and humanitarian impacts will last well into 2017.

El Niño has affected food security and agricultural production, with cascading effects on livelihoods, health, water, sanitation, education and other sectors. In Eastern and Southern Africa,1 some 50 million people are food insecure, many due to drought exacerbated by El Niño or due to a combination of drought and conflict. In Africa appeals for financial assistance total over US$3.7 billion - with some $1.5 billion available, the funding gap stands at over $2.2 billion. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) plans to soon issue a regional appeal, which may increase the funding request. SADC indicates that more than 40 million people are at risk of being food insecure by the end of the year, of which an estimated 21 million are thought to require humanitarian assistance.

The El Niño-Southern Oscillation, a change in global weather conditions caused by the warming of part of the Pacific Ocean, has three states: El Niño (warming), La Niña (cooling) and Neutral. La Niña conditions often, but not always, follow El Niño conditions, and the likelihood of a La Niña developing in the final quarter of 2016 has increased to 75 per cent. On average, a La Niña event may have even greater overall humanitarian impact, as El Niño has eroded coping capacities. Areas now experiencing drought could face flooding, and areas that have seen excessive rainfall with El Niño could experience drought. This means that La Niña preparedness and early action need to be built into El Niño response and recovery efforts, and development actors should increase risk and vulnerability-reduction efforts in priority areas, including by reprioritizing existing development funding to mitigate the risks.

This year’s El Niño took place in a world already dramatically affected by climate change, hitting the poorest communities hardest. Women and girls are affected disproportionately by this crisis. Lack of access to clean water means that girls must spend hours every day accessing water instead of going to school; boys spend hours every day leading cattle to water instead of going to school; and children with diarrhea struggle to recover from dehydration. The humanitarian situation due to the ongoing drought aggravates the already challenging education context in these regions. In addition to responding quickly to critical food, water, nutrition, health and livelihoods requirements, efforts must be focused on building climate resilience and the capacity to respond to future shocks.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs:
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