Entering Uncharted Waters - El Niño and the threat to food security

from Oxfam
Published on 01 Oct 2015 View Original

Super El Niño and climate change cause crop failures putting millions at risk of hunger

At least ten million poor people face hunger this year and next due to both droughts and erratic rains influenced by climate change and the likely development of a ‘super El Niño’.

In Entering Uncharted Waters: El Niño and the threat to food security, Oxfam warns of increasingly erratic weather with some areas of the world suffering floods while others endure drought.

Crops have already failed in Southern Africa and Central America, driving up the price of maize on local markets. Ethiopia and parts of South East Asia are suffering from the effects of drought and are braced for worse in coming months.

World leaders are set to meet in Paris in December to negotiate a universal and legally-binding UN climate agreement. Oxfam is warning that climate chaos could increase humanitarian emergencies at a time when resources and capacity are already under enormous strain.

Scientists say climate change could double the frequency of ‘super El Niños’. It is a natural phenomenon, occurring every 7 or 8 years, when a huge release of heat from the oceans into the atmosphere influences global weather patterns.

Mark Goldring, Oxfam GB’s Chief Executive said: “Rice and maize crops are both at risk with serious implications for millions of poor people from Southern Africa to Central America who are dependent on these staples.

“Meteorologists are predicting a super El Niño this year which will have an even more devastating effect in the wake of 2014, the hottest year on record.

“Oxfam is already responding – now governments and agencies need to act rapidly to avert humanitarian disasters in the next year. This should serve as a wake-up call for them to agree a global deal to tackle climate change”.

In 2011, the delay in responding to the food crisis in the Horn of Africa meant as many as 260,000 people died.

Rains are needed from November in Southern Africa to avert a food crisis early next year.

The effects of record high temperatures and the ‘super El Niño’ are already being felt;

  • The Government of Ethiopia estimates that 4.5 million people will need food relief by the end of the year because of poor rains

  • The maize harvest in Zimbabwe is 35% below average following drought

  • By February 2016, more than 2 million people in Malawi are expected to be struggling to find enough food

  • In Guatemala and Honduras hundreds of thousands of farmers have suffered the partial or total loss of their crops through drought and changes to the seasons

  • Papua New Guinea has been hit by torrential rains that caused landslides, then drought and severe heat that withered crops, affecting 2 million people

  • Indonesian authorities have declared a drought in the majority of the country’s 34 provinces

The last big El Niño in 1997-98 caused climate chaos and humanitarian disasters in many countries from Peru to Indonesia.

In addition, the pattern of El Niños is getting harder to predict. With ongoing climate change, 2014 was the hottest year on record. No El Niño developed then but growing seasons in Southern Africa and Central America behaved as if one were occurring. Temperatures continued to soar this year and some scientists are expecting it to be the most powerful El Niño to date.


If you would like to see a copy of the report, or arrange interviews or briefings, contact Sarah Grainger: sgrainger1@oxfam.org.uk /01865 472089 / 07810 181514