Responding to the declaration of a national disaster by the Malawi government and “red alert” by the government of Mozambique, Concern Worldwide called today for an urgent collective response. Both countries are experiencing rapidly worsening food shortages triggered by ongoing droughts resulting from the El Niño climate phenomenon. Crop failures have left up to 4 million people in Malawi and 1.5 million in Mozambique in immediate need of assistance.
“El Niño impacts every region and every group of people, but disproportionately affects the poorest and most vulnerable — smallholder farmers, female-headed households, and children.”
“El Niño is one of the most widespread and devastating weather events the continent has faced in years,” said Concern Worldwide U.S. President of Programs and Field Integration Aine Fay. “It impacts every region and every group of people, but disproportionately affects the poorest and most vulnerable — smallholder farmers, female-headed households, and children. As the drought in Malawi and Mozambique continues, these groups will have no choice but to skip meals and take children out of school. Ultimately, recovery will take years.”
Concern Worldwide Malawi Country Director Caoimhe de Barra said, “Malawians’ ability to survive was already severely compromised by flooding in 2015, and this year’s droughts compound the situation. We can anticipate that there will be a need to support three to four million people over the next twelve months — and the figures could rise higher.” She noted the critical importance of early action. “If we can start supporting people now, we can save lives and prevent an even worse situation later this year and next year.”
Malawi’s President Peter Mutharika echoed her concern: “With the increased maize deficit, it is expected that an increased number of people will be food-insecure and will require humanitarian relief assistance for the whole 2016-17 consumption year.”
Maize is a staple food and accounts for 95% of all crops harvested in Malawi. The 2015 harvest was 30% below the five-year average and this year’s harvest is 12.4% below last year’s harvest.
Caoimhe de Barra noted that the reduction in availability of maize is “devastating” at a time when the government is unlikely to be able to find maize in regional markets.
Over 10 million people across the southern African region will need food aid in the coming year.
The threat in Malawi is compounded by the fact that its children suffer chronic malnutrition. Some 42% of children under five in Malawi are “stunted,” a clinical term used to indicate diminished physical and mental development as a result of poor nutrition. The potential damage inflicted by a widespread hunger crisis could have generational impact. Vital therapeutic foods and medicines for severely malnourished children in rural areas are an immediate need.
In Mozambique, Concern is working with its consortium partners CARE, Oxfam, and Save the Children, to respond to the urgent food and water needs of more than 100,000 people, but warns that available resources are insufficient to address the scale of the needs.
In Zambia, Concern is conducting a vulnerability assessment to measure food insecurity and will respond as needed.
Over 10 million people across the southern African region will need food aid in the coming year, according to the World Food Programme (WFP). In addition, 11.2 million people in Ethiopia and Somalia are depending on food assistance.
What is El Niño?
Every two to seven years, an unusually warm pool of water develops across the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. This phenomenon, known as El Niño, can last up to 18 months and affects oceanic and atmospheric circulation across the globe, shifting climate away from the norm.
El Niño can lead to weather-induced disasters such as floods, hurricanes, drought and famine.
In 1997-1998, the strongest recorded El Niño killed some 21,000 people and caused damage to infrastructure worth US$36 billion.
Indicators are showing that the current El Niño could surpass this as the most powerful on record.