El Niño’s Extreme Weather Aggravates Hunger in Countries Including Zambia and Afghanistan, Warns WFP

Extreme weather due to El Niño is causing a rise in hunger in multiple countries, including Zambia and Afghanistan, the UN’s World Food Programme stated on Wednesday, and called on donors for much-needed assistance.

El Niño is a natural, temporary, and occasional warming of part of the Pacific that shifts global weather patterns, and studies suggest that as the world warms, they may become more severe.

Tens of millions of people in southern Africa rely on the weather to grow food to sustain themselves.

In a statement, the WFP emphasized that southern Africa is the “epicenter of the crisis” after a cycle of floods and drought ravaged the region over the last three years. Three countries, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Zambia, are the most severely affected and have witnessed between 40-80% of their essential corn crops destroyed by drought this season, impacting millions, according to the WFP.

The WFP reported that executive director Cindy McCain traveled to Zambia and observed how “severe drought has destroyed harvests in a region where 70% of the population depends on agriculture for survival.”

“We cannot expect millions to wait until the next harvest season — a year from now — to feed their families,” McCain indicated in a statement. “These families require our support today while we work towards building a more resilient future.”

The WFP stated that its “teams have begun assisting, but US$409 million is required over six months to aid 4.8 million people in Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.”

Other nations, including Congo and Afghanistan, are facing similar challenges due to changing weather patterns, which have resulted in crop destruction, livestock loss, and population displacement, all contributing to a surge in hunger, the organization said in a separate statement.

This situation arises as hunger crises in Syria and Sudan are already straining the agency’s aid capabilities.

The WFP’s appeal for aid came shortly after the regional Southern African Development Community made a plea for assistance following a special virtual meeting of leaders and government officials to address the effects of the extreme weather.

In a joint statement, the southern African nations indicated that the region required $5.5 billion to assist over 61 million people.

The regional bloc stated that there had been a “multifaceted and cascading impact of the El Niño-induced drought and floods across multiple sectors,” highlighting how it had led to additional issues, such as contributing to large and fatal outbreaks of the water-borne disease cholera. Countries reliant on hydroelectric generators, such as Zambia, are facing challenges in producing sufficient electricity due to the drought.

Alongside El Niño, the southern African region has recently experienced a series of tropical cyclones that scientists believe have likely been intensified and aggravated by human-induced climate change and rising global temperatures.

While the African continent contributes the least to climate change, it is anticipated to suffer the most. Poorer countries are generally not as well-prepared to mitigate the effects.

The WFP noted that even before the floods and drought, food insecurity and malnutrition were already at alarming levels in Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Zambia, and humanitarian assistance had been hindered by funding shortages.

All three countries have declared national disasters due to this year’s drought, and other assessments have been equally bleak.

The United Nations humanitarian agency stated this month that approximately half of Zimbabwe’s 15 million population required “lifesaving and life-sustaining” assistance due to the drought.

Last week, the non-profit organization Action Against Hunger warned that “a hunger crisis may be imminent” in Kenya in East Africa after catastrophic floods displaced more than 250,000 people.