El Nino and Hunger in Africa

One of the most important global stories going into the New Year will be the effect of El Nino on food supplies in the Horn of Africa and in Southern Africa.

So far, this looming threat has not garnered too much media attention.  But among aid professionals, there is deep concern that El Nino may usher food scarcity, widespread starvation, and perhaps even famine.

The El Nino weather phenomenon manifests itself in different ways in different parts of the world. But in some regions of Africa, it is expected to have a devastating effect on food security.

Ethiopia is currently experiencing its worst drought in thirty years; and just yesterday USAID released $90 million in food aid for the country. In Somalia, previous el Ninos have cause destructive flooding, wiping out crops and cutting off entire regions from aid convoys.  Last month, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization warned that 30 million people in Southern Africa may face food shortages in the next six months. Malawi, in particular, is facing its worst food security crisis in a decade. Zimbabwe, Lesotho, and Madagascar are also at risk.

Behind the scenes, international aid agencies are scrambling to raise funds and pre-position resources before the worst of it sets in. This video from the World Food Program offers a glimpse into what part of the response looks like as the effects of el Nino begin to be felt in earnest in the coming months

This looming food security crisis in Africa comes at a time when aid agencies are stretched exceedingly thin by crises in the Middle East. The World Food Program has already had to reduce rations for Syrian and Iraqi refugees; and the resources to deal with yet another humanitarian emergency–even one the international community clearly see’s coming–may be lacking.

The next six months are going to brutal for millions of people in parts of the earth particularly vulnerable to the effects of El Nino. But it is not at all clear that donors are going to step up and ease their suffering.