A desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis is deteriorating in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and leaving millions more in need of humanitarian assistance. Oxfam is providing life-saving support but help is urgently needed to prevent the crisis turning into a catastrophe.
An inadequate response to El Nino will put an already overstretched humanitarian system under intense strain and expose tens of millions more people to the extreme risk of hunger, homelessness and disease, warned Oxfam and other leading aid agencies. Funding is urgently required to prevent millions more women, children and men around the world from going hungry, suffering water shortages, falling ill and seeing their livelihoods collapse.
Nigel Timmins, Oxfam International’s Humanitarian Director, said: “If the world acts now, we can help prevent disaster and suffering for millions of people – rather than waiting for people to start dying. The aid community has helped communities to avoid the worst effects of disasters linked to El Nino on a small scale in countries like Kenya and Malawi, but what is needed now is a combined international effort - we can and need to do this right.”
The current El Nino is one of the worst on record. In Ethiopia, the government estimates that 10.2 million people will need humanitarian assistance in 2016, at a cost of $1.4 billion, in addition to the 8 million people who will receive support under the national safety-net program. Tens of millions of people in East and Southern Africa are now suffering in the midst of drought or floods, with millions more people affected in Latin America and the Pacific.
The humanitarian agencies, including Oxfam and World Vision, warned UN member states that the humanitarian system was already massively underfunded – with the gap between need and funding the largest ever. In 2015, $19.9 billion in humanitarian funding was needed. Only half was given. This year’s appeal of $20.1 billion launched by the UN and its partners is designed to meet the needs of nearly 88 million of the most vulnerable people in 37 countries. However, a number of countries that are affected by El Nino are not factored into this global appeal.
The agencies said that it was important to apply the lessons of the 2011 Horn of Africa food crisis in which 258,000 people died in Somalia alone – half of them children under 5. The 2012 report ‘A Dangerous Delay’ revealed that the response to the drought in Somalia was too little too late and that the crisis unfolded as predicted. Speedy funding to enable humanitarian agencies to prevent severe childhood malnutrition, save livelihoods and boost resilience programming is now essential.
The agencies also said affected governments need to respond to this year’s crisis by doing more to put in place social safety nets, disaster preparedness plans and building resilience.
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Read Oxfam's report: Entering uncharted waters: El Niño and the threat to food security
Learn more about how climate change is driving hunger.