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El Niño: Snapshot of Impact and Projected Humanitarian Needs as of 22 December 2015

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OCHA
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30 million FOOD INSECURE PEOPLE IN SOUTHERN AFRICA

22 million PEOPLE LIKELY TO SUFFER FROM FOOD INSECURITY IN EASTERN AFRICA

4.7 million PEOPLE AT RISK FROM ADVERSE WEATHER ASSOCIATED WITH EL NIÑO IN THE SOUTH PACIFIC

4.2 million PEOPLE ALREADY AFFECTED BY EL NIÑO-RELATED DROUGHT IN CENTRAL AMERICA

Summary

The 2015-2016 El Niño phenomenon is one of the three strongest since 1950 and models suggest that it may surpass the strength of the 1997-1998 event, which was the strongest on record. El Niño is likely to decline in strength in January 2016, but it will continue to affect different parts of the world at different times with a mix of above- or below-average rainfall. The impacts, especially on food insecurity, may last as long as two years. East Africa, Southern Africa, the Pacific Islands, South East Asia and Central America have the greatest risk of adverse weather affecting their upcoming rainy seasons.

Impact

Millions of people have been affected since El Niño was confirmed in May 2015. Across Eastern Africa, belowaverage rainfall observed from June through August resulted in drought-like conditions in the northern parts of the region, mostly in Ethiopia, Sudan, Djibouti and Eritrea. In Ethiopia, which is experiencing the worst drought in over 50 years, the number of food insecure people jumped from 2 million at the beginning of the year to 8.2 million in October, to 10.2 million in December 2015, as announced by the Government. Throughout Central America, Colombia and Haiti, rainfall deficits continued to grow, negatively affecting both of the main growing seasons and access to water. Up to 80 per cent of crops have been lost in the “dry corridor” of Central America, a drought-prone region shared by Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador. Drought conditions have affected more than 4.2 million people in Central America. Typical El Niño conditions were also observed in the South Pacific Islands. In Papua New Guinea, 2.4 million people – one third of the country’s total population – are affected by drought and frost. Drier conditions have increased not only food insecurity and acute malnutrition but also health concerns and water shortages. Between September and November, other parts of Eastern Africa, South America and Central Asia experienced a wetter-than-normal season, while drought conditions continued to affect Indonesia, the Philippines and the South Pacific Islands. Since October, about 60,000 people have been displaced by flash floods in Kenya, while drought conditions have driven more than 186,000 internal displacements in Ethiopia since 1 September.

Projections

Between December and February, increased precipitation is forecast for the Pacific Islands near the equator, northern Papua New Guinea and northern Indonesia. In past years, this transition from drought to rainfall has led to flooding, crop pests and waterborne diseases. Flooding and intense rainfall (including cyclones) may also cause population displacement and damage health and sanitation infrastructure. Conversely, as Southern Africa enters into the main part of its growing season (Dec-Apr), well-below-average rainfall is forecast. Coupled with the poor 2015 harvests, it will likely see a significant number of new beneficiaries in 2016. In the coming months, Eastern Africa, Southern Africa and the South Pacific are the regions most likely to see an increase in humanitarian needs.

In 2016, an estimated 22 million people may suffer from food insecurity in Eastern Africa, and 4.7 million people in the South Pacific may be at risk from adverse weather associated with El Niño. In Southern Africa, where 30 million people are already food insecure after a ruinous 2015, the situation will only worsen throughout 2016 due to El Niño and relief might only come with the 2017 harvest. People most vulnerable, including children, the elderly and women, are at greatest risk. Currently, over half a billion children are living in areas with extremely high levels of flood occurrence, and nearly 160 million people live in areas of high or extremely high drought severity. Children are also far more vulnerable to disease than adults.

Excessive rainfall could trigger and exacerbate outbreaks of waterborne diseases such as cholera and typhoid as well as vector-borne diseases such as malaria, which will affect millions of people. There could also be an increased impact on livestock such as through Rift Valley Fever outbreaks can also infect humans. In the 1997-98 El Niño event, unprecedented outbreaks of Rift Valley Fever occurred in Kenya, Somalia and Tanzania, with nearly 90,000 people infected and 500 deaths. Although the climate impacts of El Niño on seasonal rainfall are expected to end before mid-2016, the health effects are likely to continue until the third quarter of 2016 or to the new harvest season

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs: To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.