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Southern Africa Humanitarian Outlook 2015/2016: Special Focus on El Niño



Abnormal rainfall patterns during 2014/2015 have contributed to a spike in food insecurity, which is currently affecting at least 27.4 m people regionally (and this excludes Angola, which has yet to publish official figures; and Madagascar, which did not present to SADC, but where 1.9 m people are food insecure, of which 460,000 people are severely so). In Malawi and Zimbabwe, 2.8 m and 1.5 m people are food insecure respectively.

Serious concerns are mounting that Southern Africa will this coming season face another poor harvest, possibly a disastrous one: a strong El Niño is expected, with some authorities predicting the strongest ever recorded. For Southern Africa, El Niño usually means less rain, and this will likely impact the same countries that are already struggling through a season of drought, including Angola, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. We are already seeing the impacts of El Niño, with poor rainfall being observed across the region (in some areas less than 25 per cent of the average), and South Africa declaring drought emergencies in five provinces.

The economic impact will be severe: about 70 per cent of the region's population depends on agriculture for employment. The effects of El Niño will be felt across all sectors, including agricultural and livestock, food security, health, water and sanitation, and education, leading to economic contraction and changes in migration patterns as agricultural labor opportunities disappear. Even with the predicted El Niño, significant floods are still expected: during the second half of the rainfall season (January to March 2016), floods are likely to occur in Malawi (where 230,000 people were displaced by floods in January 2015), Mozambique, Tanzania and Madagascar. There is a 65 per cent chance that a cyclone will hit Madagascar; a phenomena to which Mozambique also remains perennially at risk. Flash floods are also likely in urban areas characterized by poor infrastructure and drainage, and along major rivers, particularly the Zambezi. With the rains come water-borne diseases such as cholera, which is endemic in the region.

The region is particularly disaster-prone following a ruinous 2015: more than 1.8 m people were affected by mass floods in January and March, with 280,000 people displaced and at least 600 people killed - the largest numbers since the great floods of 2000. More than 20,000 cholera cases and 176 deaths have been reported in 2015 alone, with outbreaks currently affecting Mozambique and Tanzania.

The region is ill prepared. Only half of countries have updated contingency plans, while the rest have outdated plans or none at all. Countries need to update and finalize their plans as a matter of priority, and these plans need to expand on likely humanitarian scenarios and resource available and required. Many countries require financial and technical assistance from the humanitarian community to prepare and start responding.


UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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