El Niño precipitation impact. Adapted from UK Met Office, schematic map of the typical precipitation effects over land favoured during El Niño events. Impacts are calculated according to the rate of occurrence in historical analyses. Graphic: Oxfam

By Oliver Milman
30 September 2015

(The Guardian) – At least 10 million of the world’s poorest people are set to go hungry this year because of failing crops caused by one of the strongest El Niño climatic events on record, Oxfam has warned.

The charity said several countries were already facing a “major emergency”, such as Ethiopia, where 4.5 million are in need of food aid because of a prolonged scarcity of rain this year.

Floods, followed by drought, have slashed Malawi’s maize production by more than a quarter, farmers in central America have suffered from two years of drought and El Niño conditions have already reduced the Asian monsoon over India, potentially triggering a wider drought across the east of the continent.

Indonesia’s government has declared drought in 34 of the country’s provinces because of El Niño, while 2 million people in Papua New Guinea have been affected by crops shrivelling in heat in some parts of the country and severe frosts in its highlands.

El Niño is a periodic climatic phenomenon where waters of the eastern tropical Pacific warm, triggering a range of potential consequences for global weather. While parts of South America are typically doused in heavy rainfall, warmer, drought-like conditions are experienced in Australia, south-east Asia and southern Africa.

The UK Met Office has predicted this year’s El Niño could be the strongest on record since 1950, warning that famine could grip west Africa.

An Oxfam report, called Entering Uncharted Waters, states the El Niño will rival that of 1998, which caused droughts, floods and forest fires that resulted in 2,000 deaths and caused about $33bn in property damage. [more]

Record El Niño set to cause hunger for 10 million poorest, Oxfam warns


1 October 2015 (Oxfam) – At least ten million poor people face hunger this year and next due to droughts and erratic rains, influenced by climate change and the likely development of a ‘super El Niño’.

In Entering Uncharted Waters: El Niño and the threat to food security, Oxfam says crops have already failed in Southern Africa and Central America, driving up the price of maize on local markets. Ethiopia and parts of South East Asia are suffering from the effects of drought and are braced for worse in coming months.

World leaders are set to meet in Paris in December to negotiate a universal and legally-binding UN climate agreement. Oxfam is warning that climate chaos could increase humanitarian emergencies at a time when resources and capacity are already under enormous strain.

Scientists say climate change could double the frequency of ‘super El Niños’. It is a natural phenomenon, occurring every 7 or 8 years, when a huge release of heat from the oceans into the atmosphere influences global weather patterns.

Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam International’s Executive Director said: “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. 2014 was the hottest year on record and this year looks set to exceed it. Governments are waking up to the fact that climate change is already happening and there is an urgent need for a global deal to tackle it.”

In 2011, the delay in responding to the food crisis in the Horn of Africa meant more than 260,000 people died.

Rains are needed from November in Southern Africa to avert a food crisis early next year. The effects of record high temperatures and the ‘super El Niño’ are already being felt;

  • The Government of Ethiopia estimates that 4.5 million people will need food relief by the end of the year because of poor rains
  • The maize harvest in Zimbabwe is 35% below average following drought
  • By February 2016, more than 2 million people in Malawi are expected to be struggling to find enough food
  • In Guatemala and Honduras hundreds of thousands of farmers have suffered the partial or total loss of their crops through drought and changes to the seasons
  • Papua New Guinea has been hit by torrential rains that caused landslides, then drought and severe heat that withered crops, affecting 2 million people
  • Indonesian authorities have declared a drought in the majority of the country’s 34 provinces

The last big El Niño in 1997-98 caused climate chaos and humanitarian disasters in many countries from Peru to Indonesia.

In addition, the pattern of El Niños is getting harder to predict. With ongoing climate change, 2014 was the hottest year on record. No El Niño developed then but growing seasons in Southern Africa and Central America behaved as if one were occurring. Temperatures continued to soar this year and some scientists are expecting it to be the most powerful El Niño to date.

Super El Niño and climate change cause crop failures putting millions at risk of hunger

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