Millions face hunger due to climate change, 'super El Nino': Oxfam

Joseph D'Urso PlanetArk 1 Oct 15;

At least 10 million poor people face hunger this year and next because of droughts and erratic rains linked to record global temperatures and an expected "super" version of the evolving El Nino weather pattern, aid charity Oxfam has warned.

In Ethiopia alone, 4.5 million people need food aid because a combination of El Nino and long-term climate change has made the rainy season more unpredictable, according to United Nations agencies.

El Nino, caused by Pacific Ocean warming, leads to dry weather in some parts of the world and causes floods in others.

This year the phenomenon is expected to peak between October and January and could turn into one of the strongest on record. The last "super El Nino" was in 1997-8.

"Rice and maize crops are both at risk, with serious implications for millions of poor people from Southern Africa to Central America who are dependent on these staples," Mark Goldring, Oxfam GB's chief executive, said in a statement on Thursday.

A scorching drought has ravaged crops in southern Africa already, with South Africa's key maize crop falling by a third and poor yields set to continue into the southern hemisphere summer, according to the country's weather service.

In neighboring Zimbabwe, where the maize harvest is 35 percent below average, the government blamed the drought-stricken farm sector for a halving of its economic growth forecast in July.

Harvests in Central America have fallen by as much as 60 percent for maize and 80 percent for beans this year due to prolonged dry spells linked to El Nino, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

Southeast Asia is also affected, Oxfam said.

Warming seas could double the frequency of the most powerful El Ninos, the report noted.

As world leaders prepare for a U.N. summit on climate change in Paris in December, increasing climatic disruption, driven by rising temperatures, threatens to increase the likelihood of humanitarian emergencies at a time when the aid system is already under enormous strain, Oxfam said.

"Governments and agencies need to act rapidly to avert humanitarian disasters in the next year," said Goldring.

"This should serve as a wake-up call for them to agree a global deal to tackle climate change."

(Editing by Tim Pearce.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)


Record El Niño set to cause hunger for 10 million poorest, Oxfam warns
Charity says countries already facing a ‘major emergency’ include Ethiopia, where 4.5 million people need food aid because of scarcity of rain this year
Oliver Milman The Guardian 1 Oct 15;

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.

The report warns “major humanitarian emergencies” were possible without proper intervention, pointing out that failure to respond to drought has proved disastrous in recent years, such as 2011 when rains failed in the Horn of Africa and more than 260,000 people died.

Dr Helen Szoke, the chief executive of Oxfam Australia, said the charity had already started work with communities, including in Papua New Guinea, in an attempt to stave off crop failures.

“We are working with farmers in PNG to plant drought-resistant seeds and to help them with the collection of rainwater,” she said. “Vanuatu is another country where we are doing that work although, cruelly, they’ve already had a head start due to the repairing of water systems due to cyclone Pam.

“Our staff in Zimbabwe and Malawi, for example, are expressing concern about the preparedness of the seasonal crop. People who rely on subsistence farming aren’t necessarily prepared for frosts or drought, which is when food security becomes an issue.

“The poorer countries don’t have the systems in place and are much more vulnerable. Potentially millions of people will be affected by a lack of access to water and if food prices go up, the poor will miss out again.”

El Niño-like conditions were expected last year but failed to materialise. The El Niño now brewing in the Pacific Ocean is expected to end in January but may, in the long term, become more frequent. Research published in Nature Climate Change last year predicted El Niño frequency could double because of climate change fuelled by the release of greenhouse gases.

Last year was the warmest year globally on record, with 2015 and 2016 potentially set to cause this record to topple again.

Szoke said the international community needed to ensure El Niño conditions weren’t replicated every year by changes to rainfall, extreme heat and cyclones caused by climate change.

“We can’t keep just patching up communities,” she said. “We need a long-term vision for climate change. We need to reduce emissions, move away from old technologies and address this issue. We have an opportunity to do that in Paris [at UN climate talks] later this year.”

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