Food

El Nino impact on food security: $160 million needed urgently to support 4.8 million people at risk, says FAO

Releases anticipatory action plan after WMO forecasts El Nino to stay till April 2024

 
By Shagun
Published: Friday 10 November 2023
The El Nino may fuel more extreme weather events such as heatwaves, wildfires and droughts. Photo: iStock__

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations has launched a plan to reduce the projected impacts of climate phenomenon El Nino on agricultural livelihoods and food security of the most at-risk and vulnerable populations.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) recently forecast that climate pattern El Nino may continue into April 2024, which may fuel more extreme weather events such as heatwaves, wildfires and droughts. 

According to the Anticipatory Action and Response Plan, nearly $160 million was needed urgently to deliver support to over 4.8 million people through March 2024.

The plan currently prioritised actions in 34 countries across Eastern and Southern Africa, Asia and the Pacific and Latin America and the Caribbean, which were identified based on an assessment of historical impacts of El Nino and other key factors, such as the latest seasonal climate forecasts, agricultural seasonality and current vulnerabilities.

The latest El Nino forecast could cause further rise in global average temperatures and is expected to be comparable to the top six strongest events in recorded history. FAO’s plan covers two critical time windows: Acting ahead of El Nino shocks to prevent their impacts and delivering first responses where devastation from El Nino could not be avoided.

It focuses on three key objectives:

  • Mitigate El Nino disaster impacts through anticipatory actions, such as helping fisherfolk protect their boats ahead of storms, reinforcing river embankments ahead of floods, distributing drought-tolerant seeds to rainfed farmers and protecting livestock health.
  • Capitalise on the positive spillover effects of El Nino and offset losses, for example, by supplying seeds to flood-affected farmers so they can plant and regain a harvest as flood waters recede.
  • Deliver early response where El Nino causes devastation, including prepositioning the most time-sensitive supplies, such as veterinary medicines, seeds and water bladders, while providing cash to severely affected families to meet their most immediate needs.

The current El Nino cycle is happening at a time when there are a record 258 million people experiencing acute hunger and only 20 per cent of the funds needed to deliver food security assistance to the most vulnerable is available. 

The 2015-2016 El Nino episode severely affected over 60 million people worldwide, causing 23 countries to appeal for international humanitarian assistance, totalling $5 billion.

El Nino is the warmer-than-normal phase of El Nino Southern Oscillation, when the sea-surface temperatures in the eastern and central equatorial Pacific Ocean are warmer than the average by more than 0.5 degrees Celsius. El Nino is generally known to bring warmer-than-normal temperatures to many regions around the world and disrupt other major weather systems, such as the Indian summer monsoon.  

Across Asia and the Pacific, El Nino has contrasting impacts — it can bring too much or too little rain, depending on the location. In Eastern Africa, El Nino is associated with above-average rains during the October-December rainy season, which may result in heavy rainfall episodes, flooding and landslides, especially in eastern Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and southern Uganda. 

In southern Africa and parts of South and Central America, El Nino usually brings rainfall deficits that can cause significant negative effects on agricultural production and food security. 

“By disrupting rainfall and temperature patterns, El Nino may strongly impact agriculture, rural livelihoods and food security. Such early warnings clearly call for early action. FAO’s El Nino Anticipatory Action and Response Plan requires urgent funding to deliver immediate support in a number of identified countries around the world, based on analysis of historical trends, latest seasonal forecasts, agricultural seasonality and the vulnerability of populations at risk,” the FAO said. 

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