El Niño and fighting leave 80 million in food crisis

El nino food security news.jpg
Copyright: Sven Torfinn / Panos

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  • Conflicts in places such as Syria and Yemen have led to food shortages
  • El Niño has caused severe droughts in Africa, Asia and the Americas
  • A total of 240 million people are in ‘food stress’

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Armed conflict and the droughts caused by the El Niño effect have left 80 million people around the world in acute food crisis this year, reveals a food security report.

The report by the Joint Research Centre (JRC), the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Programme adds that a total of 240 million people are in food stress.

This corresponds to level two on a five-level international classification of food insecurity; food crisis is level three and famine is level five.

The situation is more serious than in previous years, coauthor François Kayitakire tells SciDev.Net. “Ethiopia, for example, was relatively fine in 2015,” he says. “But this year there are ten million people who are in food crisis, in the most severe drought in decades.”

Credit: European Union, 2016. Click image to enlarge.

At the end of 2015, food crises were caused by extreme weather events due to one of the strongest El Niño phenomena in the past 20 years, according to the report. El Niño is an irregular warming of the Pacific Ocean that changes global weather patterns.

Severe droughts hit the Horn of Africa, Southern Africa, South-East Asia, South America, Central America and the Caribbean, the report says, and are forecast to continue throughout 2016.

In addition to climate events, armed conflicts have left tens of millions of people at risk of severe hunger, the report says. “Places that need extreme attention are in the Middle East, such as Yemen and Syria,” says Kayitakire, a senior scientist at the JRC, the European Commission's in-house science service.

According to the report, which was presented at a conference on development and food security in Belgium last month (25 April), more than seven million people in Yemen and six million in Syria are in food crisis due to escalating conflicts.

Other countries with food security concerns because of prolonged armed conflict include Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan, the report says.

Ed Pomfret, head of humanitarian charity Oxfam’s GROW campaign for food justice, says people living in a state of emergency need not only immediate aid, but also help to become more resilient in the long term, for example through investment in sustainable agriculture.

“Many people facing the effects of El Niño have nothing really left,” says Pomfret. “Once their crops fail and their animals die, they’re left drained of savings, and forced to borrow, sell their assets or migrate.”


Tharcisse Nkunzimana and others Global analysis of food and nutrition security situation in food crisis hotspots (Joint Research Centre, March 2016)