9 January 2016

Africa: Humanitarian Agencies Warn of Famine As El Niño Wreaks Havoc

Millions of people in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean are likely to starve in the first six months of 2016, as El Niño reaches its peak and its full impact begins to show.

Humanitarian agencies have issued warnings of a major food crisis, along with water shortages and disease outbreaks.

Most of East Africa is already stressed in terms of food security, according to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network. Parts of Ethiopia, South Sudan, Somalia and Sudan are already in the crisis and emergency stages on the hunger scale, with millions of people needing food assistance.

Fewsnet also reports that Ethiopia is the most affected country. The country is currently experiencing a drought that will leave millions of people in need of food aid in the first half of 2016. Already, aid agencies have issued a food security emergency alert, with areas most affected listed as Southern Afar and Northern Somali -- which are already in the emergency stage on the hunger scale.

"It's already too late for some regions to avoid a major emergency," says Oxfam. "It will cost at least $1.4 billion to respond to the emergency in Ethiopia."

The drought has been made worse by the super El Niño that is sweeping across the world. Oxfam says it intends to reach at least 777,000 people to provide them with water, sanitation and food aid.

"Millions of people in places like Ethiopia, Haiti and Papua New Guinea are already feeling the effects of drought and crop failure. We urgently need to get help to these areas to make sure people have enough food and water," said Jane Cocking, Oxfam's humanitarian director.

Other countries of high concern are South Sudan and Yemen, both of which are affected by conflict. Nigeria, Chad, Central Africa Republic, Haiti, Central America and the Southern Africa region are also on the hunger watch list in 2016.

In Sudan, the Blue Nile region and South Kordofan states are the most affected, with the food security situation said to be deteriorating. Harvests are projected to be very low, worsened by the El Niño. Food insecurity is expected to become more acute later in the year.

And then there's Southern Africa. People in the region are expected to begin experiencing food shortages as early as February and South Africa has already declared several provinces as disaster areas due to the El Niño.

"Aid agencies are already stretched responding to the crises in Syria, South Sudan and Yemen. We cannot afford other large-scale emergencies developing elsewhere. If the world waits to respond to emerging crises in southern Africa and Latin America, we will not be able to cope," says Oxfam.

The drought in South Africa is the worst since 1982, with at least 2.7 million people facing water and food shortages. The lack of rain brought with it high temperatures in many parts of South Africa. Johannesburg and Pretoria for instance recorded their highest temperatures ever at 36ºC and 39.8ºC respectively.

Johannesburg has even started water rationing, and some reports say that time spent in the shower have been limited to just three minutes in order to save water.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation has issued an alert for southern Africa, saying that the failing crop output will impact greatly on food security.

The region's small-scale farmers are almost entirely dependent on rain, rendering their output highly susceptible to its variations. While El Niño's impact depends highly on location and season -- the impact of El Niño on agricultural production appears more muted in northern areas -- past strong episodes have been associated with reduced production in several countries, including South Africa, which is the largest cereal producer in the sub-region and typically exports maize to neighbouring countries.

South Africa has already declared drought status for five provinces, its main cereal producing regions, while Lesotho has issued a drought mitigation plan and Swaziland has implemented water restrictions as reservoir levels have become low.

Due to lack of rain and water, crop survival is impossible, meaning no income for the farmers. Some large-scale farmers have even had to cut down on staff in order to reduce costs. Food prices are already rising and expected to rise further in the first few months of the year, mostly as a result of importing food.

Numbers out of South Africa indicate that the cost of maize meal have risen 14 per cent and the cost of bread risen by 7 per cent. Eggs and chicken are up 15 per cent and 4 per cent respectively. FAO reports that maize meal price increase has already hit 50 per cent.

Maize is the staple crop in South Africa and the drought has cost the maize industry a total of 12 billion rand ($769 million) in lost revenue. The sugar industry has lost two billion rand ($128 million).

In Malawi, the national food security forecast for 2016 estimates that 2.9 million people will need emergency food aid before March. Fews says that up to 2.8 million people are likely to face acute food shortage in Malawi alone. Zimbabwe on the other hand will experience significantly low maize harvests, straining food security.

Other countries affected by the El Niño drought in Southern Africa include Botswana, Zambia, Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique. The UN Children's Fund estimates that at least 11 million children will face starvation as a result.

The 2015/2016 El Niño cycle is believed to be much stronger than the 1997 cycle and the worst ever recorded in 50 years.

But whether an El Nino brings heavy rainfall or not depends on which part of the globe you are, and which side of the Equator you lie.


Stumble over Mugabe Challenges WHO Leadership

A few days ago, the 'insider' development news organization Devex gave the new Director General of the World Health… Read more »

Copyright © 2016 The East African. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com). To contact the copyright holder directly for corrections — or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material, click here.

AllAfrica publishes around 800 reports a day from more than 140 news organizations and over 500 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify allAfrica.com as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.