Food Insecurity in Eastern and Southern Africa due to El Niño

Mar 23, 2016 | Kara Sewalk | Commentary

The United Nations Children’s Fund has stated that approximately 11 million children in eastern and southern Africa face hunger, disease and water shortage due to this year’s unusually extreme El Niño season [1]. In November, the United Nations warned that the nations in the Horn of Africa, which includes Djitbouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia, are at a heightened risk for food insecurity, due to the extreme droughts that have occurred over recent months [2].

Despite concerns from the United Nations, the Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki stated that “the country will not face any crisis in spite of reduced agricultural output” and further, “Isaias praised the government's judicious policy and approaches of bolstering its strategic food reserves” [2].

Interestingly, Eritrea has long been known to reject UN food aid and prefers a policy of self-reliance, with Isaias stating that he was not worried. Consequently, the UN has limited access to the country and many foreign aid agencies are not allowed to operate there [2]. While Eritrea may claim that it will not face food insecurity this year, the surrounding region faces crop reduction by 50-90%. In neighboring Ethiopia, there is upwards of 10 million people in need of food aid, a number that is expected to rise to 18 million by the end of 2016 [2].

In this region, food insecurity and malnutrition have become an even more heightened problem within the last year. The World Food Programme published a report in December 2015 that highlights the expected outcomes and impacts of El Niño across the globe. Most of East Africa has already seen the end of the rainy season and is now dealing with the repercussions of a stunted growing season. Ethiopia faces a major drought emergency and Sudan faces a shortage of rainfall and poor pastor production [3]. The Horn of Africa is expected to experience wetter than average conditions, with flood warnings throughout Kenya and Somalia. However, a benefit of the wet conditions is that the increase in water could help recover pastoral areas [3]. With a warming climate and fluctuations of extreme rains and droughts, El Niño also brings a greater susceptibility to infectious diseases [7]. Wet and warming temperatures are an ideal breeding ground for mosquitos that transmit vector borne diseases such as malaria, dengue, yellow fever and Zika virus as well as waterborne diseases such as cholera. In the last year, Tanzania and Somalia have both experienced major cholera outbreaks, which government officials say have been caused by the pooling of groundwater due to El Niño rains [8,9].

Leila Gharagozloo-Pakkala, UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, reports that "the El Niño weather phenomenon will wane, but the cost to children - many who were already living hand-to-mouth - will be felt for years to come. Governments are responding with available resources, but this is an unprecedented situation. Children’s survival is dependent on action taken today" [1].

Malawi is experiencing its worst food crisis in nine years, with approximately 2.8 million people facing hunger (15% of the population). UNICEF cites that from December 2015 to January 2016, cases of "severe acute malnutrition" have more than doubled in Malawi[4].

Due to extreme droughts brought on by El Niño, South Africa has also experienced its driest year in over a century, and will be importing at least half of its required maize crop. Food prices have drastically increased because of reduced production and availability [4].

In response to the emergency situation, many nations have contributed funds to implement food insecurity interventions. Italy, for example, has allocated one million euros between the World Food Programme and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization to aid in curbing food insecurity in Ethiopia [5].

Below is a list of the UNICEF humanitarian appeals in El Niño-affected countries [1]:

§  $US 26 million in Angola

§  $US 87 million in Ethiopia

§  $US 3 million in Lesotho

§  $US 11 million in Malawi

§  $US 15 million in Somalia

§  $US 1 million in Swaziland

§  $US 12 million in Zimbabwe

In order to prevent years of production failure, food insecurity and malnutrition, countries across the globe need to raise funds now to protect against the devastating impacts of El Niño. The European Union has allocated 12 million euros to provide food assistance to countries of southern Africa, including Angola, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Swaziland, Lesotho and Madagascar, and allocated an additional five million euros to southern Africa in 2016 to support disaster risk reduction activities and protect against the impact of natural disasters such as drought, floods and cyclones that frequently affect Mozambique, Malawi and Madagascar [6].

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Sources

[1] http://www.unicef.org/media/media_90252.html

[2] http://reliefweb.int/report/eritrea/eritrea-president-dismisses-food-cri...

[3] http://documents.wfp.org/stellent/groups/public/documents/ena/wfp280227.pdf

[4] https://www.rt.com/news/332733-children-malnourished-el-nino/

[5] http://reliefweb.int/report/ethiopia/ethiopia-italy-contribute-1-million...

[6] https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/en/news/el-nino-devastating-impact-southern-afr...

[7] http://www.who.int/globalchange/publications/climatechangechap6.pdf

[8] http://allafrica.com/stories/201512311089.html

[9] http://reliefweb.int/report/united-republic-tanzania/tanzania-cholera-em...

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