El Nino Could Create Food Shortages Across Africa and Asia Next Year

UN officials are warning that wide-scale flooding and drought conditions due to the El Nino weather phenomenon have hit crop productions hard in many parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America, raising concerns about food security.

The warnings come with newly published figures from the United Nation’s World Food Programme, and they paint a disturbing picture of potentially severe food shortages that will likely emerge next year as a result of the El Nino phenomenon.

El Nino is the name given to the periodic warming in sea surface temperatures found across the central and east-of-central Equatorial Pacific. El Nino, which occurs every few years as the warming phase of a wider weather pattern, can bring with it severe storms, intense rain and, in other regions, extended periods of drought.  The new figures suggest that droughts in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, and Madagascar, could leave approximately 40 million people living in rural areas needing food assistance, while around nine million living in urban areas are also thought to be vulnerable. UN officials say that this year has been the driest for 35 years, and the El Nino phenomenon is not through yet.

To give an idea of what all that means, here’s a brief excerpt from the UN World Food Programme alert:

In maize surplus-producing Free State and North West provinces of South Africa, the start of seasonal rains was more than 50 days past the average onset. Parts of southern Mozambique and northern Namibia experienced a delay in the start of season of up to 40 days; rains also arrived 10-30 days late in parts of central and southern Malawi. In many areas where rains began on time, subsequent periods of prolonged dryness led to failed starts. As a result of the delayed start of season, October to December 2015 was the driest on record for parts of central South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, central Mozambique, and central Zambia. Temperatures have also been above-average and an analysis of satellite-derived imagery indicates that vegetation conditions across large parts of the region are at their lowest levels in the past 15 years.

In addition, The Guardian reports that data published from the UN suggest millions of people across Asia and the Pacific have been battered by water shortages and forest fires as a result of El Nino. This means that harvests in those regions will continue to be hampered throughout 2016, with a knock-on effect leading to gaps in crop supply through 2017 and maybe even beyond. It’s also worth noting that planting windows for several crops have now gone by entirely, so this will also impact not just food security but how much money farmers around the world are making this year, potentially driving up poverty in areas of the world where economic disadvantage is already high.

This isn’t to suggest that we’re about to see outbreaks of mass-famine, or even close to that. It does illustrate that El Nino can hit us hard, and we need to address that problem head-on if we’re going to help people who may be at risk. Countries are facing significant economic shortfalls as a result of El Nino. With donor money being taken up by the Syrian refugee crisis, and fighting the Ebola and now Zika outbreaks, there is little money to go around and there is a threat that food supply shortages will remain under-examined by international donors.

There is some slightly good news. Scientists have announced that, according to their data, El Nino has now passed its peak strength and so its direct impact should start to diminish over the next several months. However, scientists also warn that the weather pattern could still have an effect for some time to come. Its total impact, for example, on crop planting and land management, may last for years.

Even ignoring the above food security concerns, El Nino caused record temperatures as well as widescale drought and floods–and that’s concerning in and of itself. In the coming years, climate change could produce far more extreme weather conditions that may worsen during El Nino cycles. The food shortages, infrastructure collapse and other problems created by this past year’s El Nino weather phenomenon aren’t just a warning for crop and food security issues in the next few years. They’re also a red flag for the havoc that climate change could cause if we don’t stay committed to preserving our environment.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

70 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Michele Rosenbaum
m r1 years ago

you are so right Natasha. thank you for the article steve.

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Mary Van Vliet
Mary Van Vliet1 years ago

Noted.

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Muff-Anne York-Haley

The Hippos in Kruger Park are already suffering a food shortage because of drought!

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Fi T.
Past Member 1 years ago

Strive for the change in our daily life

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Natasha Site problems
Past Member 1 years ago

Well earth wasn't meant to support 8 billion people. Way too many people not enough resources 4 all...and the wealthy get 1st dibs it seems. These countries are i desperate need of birth control--FREE birth control so they'll actually use it.

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Grace Adams
Grace Adams1 years ago

Two problems--drought and sudden downpours delivering most of a year's worth of water in a few hours. Desalination of seawater can help drought--expensive but straight forward. Sudden downpours need ability to gather quickly and store a year's supply of water that comes in one hour.

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Patricia Harris
John Taylor1 years ago

Melania Padilla, we shall see about that!! Miracles do happen, even when we least expect them to happen!!

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Melania Padilla
Melania Padilla1 years ago

This is just beginning!

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Dan Blossfeld
Dan Blossfeld1 years ago

Jennifer,

Here are the rainfall totals since Oct. 1 for much of the west coast. Oregon and Northern California are running 20-30% above average. The Napa and Joaquin valleys in Central California are near average to 10% above. The interior mountains are 10-125% above average, varying wildly due to local snowfall rates. The Nevada desert is the highest, with many areas receiving more than twice the average precipitation. Even the lower Colorado River area is running slightly above average. Only the coastal area of Southern California is running at a deficit, averaging about 25% below average. Since most of California receives its water from the mountainous interior, the parts that matter most are replenishing their reservoirs.
http://www.cnrfc.noaa.gov/monthly_precip.php

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