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

By 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’, according to a new Oxfam report released today.

In Entering Uncharted Waters: El Niño and the threat to food security, Oxfam warns that crops have already failed in Southern Africa and Central America, driving up the price of corn 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.

“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,” said Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam International’s Executive Director. “Governments must wake up to the fact that climate change is already happening and there is an urgent need for a global deal to tackle it.”

Scientists say climate change could double the frequency of ‘super El Niños’, which currently occur every 7 – 8 years. El Niños are a natural phenomenon, taking place due to heat from the oceans being released into the atmosphere, influencing global weather patterns.  The last big El Niño in 1997-98 caused climate chaos and humanitarian disasters in many countries from Peru to Indonesia.

Such extreme weather events are only going to increase as climate change continues to exasperate. 2014 was the hottest year on record and this year looks set to exceed it.

Oxfam warns that increasing climate chaos, like El Niños, could pose a serious threat to the stability of the global food system and increase humanitarian emergencies at a time when resources and capacity are already under enormous strain.

“Climate change is one of the biggest threats to people’s lives and livelihoods,” said Heather Coleman, Oxfam America’s Climate Policy Manager.  “We must ensure those who are on the frontlines of extreme weather impacts are able to build their resilience and adapt to our changing climate.”

The report also lays out how the effects of record high temperatures and the ‘super El Niño’ are already being felt in multiple areas around the globe, stating:

  • 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 corn 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 1.8 million people
  • Indonesian authorities have declared a drought in the majority of the country’s 34 provinces

The pattern of El Niños is getting harder to predict. Temperatures continue to soar this year and some scientists are expecting 2015 to be the most powerful El Niño to date.

You can view a copy of the report here.

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