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    The strongest ever recorded El Niño in years has combined with climate change to put 60 million people at risk of hunger. Tell world leaders to release the cash urgently needed to save lives now and in the future.

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El Niño is the warming of sea surface temperatures of the Pacific Ocean. This phenomenon can change weather systems and consequently growing seasons around the globe. In already the hottest-ever recorded year, the 2015-16 “Super” El Niño became one of the strongest ever. For months now, Oxfam and others have been sounding the alarm against its threats particularly toward poor farmers and the millions of people dependent upon the food they grow. Oxfam and other agencies have been gearing up crisis work in dozens of countries because, even as El Niño itself fades, it has already severely damaged staple food crops that are crucial to millions of people’s lives. In many farming communities, harvests have failed and cattle have died. Their future is bleak and uncertain. El Niño itself is not a disaster – rather, it’s a trigger for a series of crises hitting people who are highly vulnerable because of poverty. In some countries, El Niño’s effects are overwhelming even the most determined government responses – they need support.

February 2016: This map includes information drawn from the US Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS-NET), UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and Oxfam country research and reports.

Global effects

See how El Nino has affected countries from around the world and what we're doing to help.

All Southern Africa Central and South America Asia Pacific Horn and Central Africa

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El Niño has exacerbated a huge drought in southern Africa. This rainy season has been the driest in 35 years. Farmers have had to delay planting or – with meagre rains coming up to two months late in some areas – haven’t been able to plant at all. The available window to successfully plant rain-fed crops has now nearly closed. For many communities across the entire region, the unanimous predictions of continuing hotter, drier weather will seal the failure of another maize crop. The region’s biggest maize producer, South Africa, is predicting a 36% decrease from its five-year average harvest. The region was already fragile, its cereal production having dropped 23% in 2014-15 because of drought. People were already highly-vulnerable to another bad year. Food scarcity has also meant high prices: maize in both South Africa and Malawi was at record highs at the start of 2016. More than 14 million people in the region are food insecure now and this is likely to increase; around 14 million more people in South Africa are affected, though the government there is managing the situation and has not yet asked for help.
Central America is facing one of the most severe droughts in its history, after three consecutive years of drought, supercharged last year by El Niño. There is deepening food insecurity in areas all around Central America, the Caribbean and the South America highlands. There are continuing crop failures. Communities in the “dry corridor” of Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador are facing the worst of it; around 3.5 million people are having serious difficulties in accessing food. The poorest households are most affected. People are facing severe malnutrition at least until the next harvest in August.
In Asia, it is likely that El Niño will cause more drought, unusual rainfall patterns and conditions for worse forest fires. Monsoons have been poor. El Niño is compounding the problems that many communities already face from climate change. In Indonesia drought is affecting millions of people and exacerbated huge forest fires last year. More than 2 million hectares of forest burnt, spreading a haze that affected some 43 million people, half a million of whom suffered respiratory infections. Similarly in the Philippines, El Niño has already affected 65,000 farmers and 32,000 hectares of rice paddy. Disasters are still not inevitable at this point, but as shown by the Government of Philippines’ recent declaration of a “State of Calamity” in 3 provinces, the window of opportunity for timely action to avoid major humanitarian emergencies is closing.
Urgent support is needed now for people in Papua New Guinea and careful monitoring is required elsewhere. Up to 4.3 million people face hunger, poverty and disease due to El Niño-related droughts, erratic rains and frosts. The last major El Niño in 1997-1998 caused severe drought, major crop losses and hardship in many parts of the Pacific. This year’s El Niño is expected to be even worse, compounded by record high temperatures and poor growing seasons in 2014.


Cautions… warnings… alarms… This “Super” El Niño should have surprised no-one. Weather experts and agencies like the UN and Oxfam have provided ample warning of El Niño’s threats. The most at-risk countries and likely consequences were predicted. Unfortunately, slow onset disasters rarely make the headlines until the worst is upon people.

On October 1, 2015 Oxfam published “Entering Unchartered Waters”, analysing El Niño’s threat to global food security. ““Millions of poor people are already feeling the effects of this super El Niño, seeing their crops fail and the price of staple foods soar because of shortages. Such extreme weather events are only going to increase as climate change ramps up.”

On November 20, 2015 Oxfam urged an immediate boost in the humanitarian response in countries already in crisis, citing the experience of the super El Niño in 1997–98. “Long-term approaches to reduce food insecurity must be found, and climate change, which is super-charging the effects of El Niño, must be tackled at the UN climate conference in Paris and beyond,” Oxfam said.

On December 15, 2015 Oxfam said: Strong leadership at every level of government and a coordinated international effort are required to avoid the failures of the 2011 Horn of Africa drought, when the international system was slow to respond and widespread suffering ensued.

On December 30, 2015 Oxfam warned that “weather and war will put the humanitarian system under unprecedented strain in 2016”, with El Niño leaving tens of millions of people facing hunger, water shortages and disease. “It’s already too late for some regions to avoid a major emergency. Aid agencies are already stretched responding to crises in Syria, South Sudan and Yemen. We cannot afford to allow other large-scale emergencies to develop elsewhere. If the world waits to respond to emerging crises in southern Africa and Latin America, we will not be able to cope.”

On January 8, 2016, Oxfam joined other leading aid agencies warning that more funding was urgently needed. “If the world acts now, we can help prevent disaster and suffering for millions of people – rather than waiting for people to start dying. The aid community has helped people to avoid the worst effects of disasters linked to El Niño on a small scale in countries like Kenya and Malawi, but what is needed now is a combined international effort.”

On January 28, 2016, Oxfam said that millions of people were at risk as Ethiopia suffers its “worst drought in a generation”. "People are watching their crops wither and their animals starve to death, knowing they don't have enough food and water themselves. The Ethiopian government is doing its best but the scale of the problem requires urgent and significant funding from donors to complement the government's efforts."

On the same day – January 28 – South Africa predicted that its maize crop harvest would be the lowest in nearly a decade. "South Africa's agricultural production figures are playing into the worst fears of this ‘super’ El Niño's likely effects on ordinary people. The region depends upon South Africa's food exports but that buffer has been blown away now by record high temperatures and drought. We're anticipating similar drops in maize production in neighboring countries too.”


El Niño and climate change. Evidence suggests that the cause-and-effect relationship between El Niño and climate change is likely to be reciprocal: while climate change boosts the probability of a ‘super’ El Niño developing, El Niño, in turn, exacerbates climate change by releasing a large amount of heat from the Pacific Ocean. As the seas heat up due to climate change, the chances of a ‘super’ El Niño occurring are likely to double. Read more: here and here


El Niño – the numbers of people being hit. Around 60 million people will be affected by El Niño in East and Southern Africa, the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean in 2016, according to the UN’s humanitarian agency. In Ethiopia 10.2 million people are in an acute state of food insecurity and need international assistance – this on top of the 8 million people already receiving help from the government-led national safety net program. Nearly 12 million more people are suffering from food insecurity elsewhere in the Horn and East Africa region, across Somalia, Eritrea, Djibouti and South Sudan. In Southern Africa, 28 million people are food insecure – nearly half of whom live in South Africa, where the government is managing the situation. Communities in the Central American “dry corridor” of Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador, especially, are facing one of the worst droughts in decades. There, an estimated 3.5 million people having serious difficulties in accessing adequate food. In addition, up to 4.7 million people in 13 Pacific countries remain at risk of drought, cyclones and erratic rainfalls. The impact of El Niño and the distinct possibility of a subsequent La Niña may further increase the number of people affected in different parts of the world for the next two years.