A Global Call for Support and Action: Responding to El Niño


The 2015-2016 El Niño phenomenon is one of the strongest since 1950, and its impact – already affecting over 60 million people and expected to rise – may last for two years. In the face of this critical threat to food security, health and the lives and livelihoods of millions of people across the world, a concerted global effort is required to prevent an even more serious humanitarian disaster in the coming months. Any response must be effective at on two consecutive fronts: supporting immediate food, water, nutrition and health needs, and supporting resilience, including building individual and community capacity to respond to future shocks. With an unprecedented number of simultaneous humanitarian crises ongoing, we need to ensure that the urgent needs of the 60 million affected are not ignored.

It is expected that there will be 52 million food-insecure people in Southern and Eastern Africa; 4.7 million people at risk from adverse weather in the South Pacific; 4.2 million people affected by drought in Central America and millions affected by drought and extreme weather conditions across Asia. El Niño impacts climate sensitive sectors, particularly agriculture and the environment, with cascading effects on the health sector, through an increase in water-borne diseases due to flooding, disease outbreaks, malnutrition, disruption of health services and overall increased mortality.
Vulnerable communities suffer disproportionately from the degradation of ecosystems and natural resources, and the longer they suffer, the more their coping abilities deteriorate, undermining development gains.

Children are among those suffering the most from the effects of El Niño, with drought conditions limiting their access to clean water, intake of nutritional food, health status and access to social services, access to education and child-friendly environments and also level of protection. Vulnerable and marginalised children, some without parental care, those with disabilities, from ethnic or religious minorities, or from the poorest segments of society, are likely to feel the effects of drought first. An integrated multi-sectoral response, which also addresses protection and education risks, is urgently required. Interventions that promote resilience must be prioritized, given the long-term consequences for children’s development.

Eight countries have currently declared a national state of emergency: El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Lesotho, Malawi, Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), Swaziland and Zimbabwe, with many others declaring regional emergencies or ‘red alerts’. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Council of Ministers recommended to Member States to declare a regional drought disaster in the Southern Africa region, acknowledging the severe levels of hunger.

Governments and the international community did prepare for this El Niño event and employed preparedness and response actions, but funding has been limited. Response plans with requests for international assistance have been completed by governments and/or humanitarian partners in 18 countries, with several additional plans being finalized. These 18 countries have requested a total of over US$3.6 billion. The current funding gap stands at over $2.2 billion, of which approximately one third is for Ethiopia. Since mid-2015, CERF has allocated around $115.2 million to 18 countries. The food security and agriculture sector is the worst affected by El Niño, with funding requests making up almost eighty percent of all current National and Humanitarian Response Plans. Globally the health sector needs approximately $464 million.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs:
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