Kala Azar DiseaseKala Azar, the second-largest parasitic killer in the world after malaria, is quite deadly. Known as Kala Azar, Black Fever and visceral leishmaniasis, the disease kills 95% of its victims if left untreated. This “Poor Man’s Disease” can be very hypocritical. While this disease infects the poverty-stricken, the treatment is hard to come by, if not impossible. Even if the patient finds a doctor that can treat the disease, the price is astronomical. And sometimes, there is no stopping the contraction of the Black Fever.

The Spread

As the disease transmits through a sandfly bite, Kala Azar preys on the vulnerable. More than 1 billion people are at risk. East Africa, India and even some parts of the Middle East are endemic to Kala Azar. Poor housing conditions and lack of waste management in these countries cause an increase in the bloodthirsty sandflies’ breeding sites. This specific culprit is the female, Phlebotomine sand fly. While just one bite from it can put someone on bed rest for weeks, malnutrition only worsens the situation. For example, low vitamin D, iron and zinc can cause an infection to progress into disease much quicker. If Kala Azar killed the equivalent number of people in the U.S., it would be the third-largest killer, killing more citizens than those who die from strokes.

OneWorld Health

The real fighting began in 2003 with a collaboration between OneWorld Health, the WHO and a 4.2 million dollar grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. With this grant and WHO’s resources, OneWorld Health was able to start its final testing to find an affordable cure for Kala Azar and the disease it causes. They are reinventing an old medicine and turning it into the treatment now called paromomycin. “It’s not every day one can say an affordable cure for a deadly disease may be imminent and we believe our approach will be successful,” said Dr. Victoria Hale, founder and CEO of OneWorld Health. It is to be a 21-day treatment and it will be readily available in every Indian clinic and, hopefully, one day, everywhere.

Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi)

Unfortunately, nothing came of the OneWorld Health drug, paromomycin until February 2019. The Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi) is fighting to change that. In a press release on the DNDi website, they share that Wellcome, a U.K. based foundation aiming to improve health for everyone, committed 12.9 million dollars for the development of drugs for Kala Azar. They are essentially funding a program that will test pre-existing drugs (that never made it to the world) and choose one to put on the market. DNDi is hoping it to be an oral drug as the drugs taken to fight Kala Azar can be painful and “require patients to take toxic and poorly tolerated drugs — often over a long period and through painful injections,” as said by Dr. Bernard Pécoul, Executive Director of DNDi.

The Impact

There is an estimated 50,000 to 90,000 new cases each year. Most families of the infected do not even go to the doctor, knowing that they will not be able to pay for the treatment. While there are many organizations funding drugs to treat Kala Azar, the cure is not coming fast enough. The current treatment for this parasitic disease is not reasonable. How can a family that can barely provide for themselves spend thousands of dollars on treatment?

The prevention and an end to Kala Azar lie in our hands. Organizations need funding to take preventative measures like spraying for these deadly sand flies, monitoring the epidemics and educating the communities affected by the disease.

Bailey Sparks
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Ethiopia's GERD
In 2011, Ethiopia announced plans to build the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in the northwestern region of the country where the Blue Nile starts. As of July 2020, Ethiopia has reached the first-year target for filling the dam. Once finished, Ethiopia’s GERD will be the largest hydroelectric dam in Africa.

This project is the principal focus of the rising nation’s development initiatives. In 1991, the East African country was among the poorest in the world, having weathered a deadly famine and civil war during the 1980s. By 2020, Ethiopia is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, averaging 9.9% of broad-based growth per year. With the completion of the GERD, the Ethiopian government anticipates joining the handful of middle-income countries by 2025. Here are ten ways Ethiopia’s GERD will help to reduce poverty and transform the country.

10 Ways The GERD Will Transform Ethiopia

  1. The GERD will quadruple the amount of electricity produced in the country. The nation’s electric supply will increase from 1591 MW when plans for the dam were first announced to approximately 6,000 MW once finished.
  2. Millions of Ethiopians will have access to electricity for the first time. Currently, over 66% of Ethiopia’s 115 million citizens lack power. Once operational, the dam will provide electricity to over 76 million Ethiopians.
  3. The surplus electricity produced by the GERD will be a steady source of income. The enormous dam will generate 6000 MW of electricity, which is more than Ethiopia needs. The Ethiopian government expects to export power to neighboring nations, including Djibouti, Eritrea, Kenya, Sudan and South Sudan.
  4. Clean water provided by the GERD will lower the spread of illness. With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, access to clean water is a timely concern to Ethiopian officials. Frequent hand-washing is essential to tackling a virus with no vaccine, but this cannot be done without clean water. The Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa has 4.8 million residents, all of whom are well-acquainted with periodic water shortages the city suffers. The completion of the GERD will decrease the risk of contracting COVID-19 and other contagious illnesses.
  5. The dam will greatly reduce sedimentation in the Blue Nile. Sedimentation poses a huge problem for farmers living in the area, as it clogs irrigation channels and hurts the efficiency of hydropower. The GERD will save the costs of building new canals and eliminate the need for new machines to be built.
  6. The GERD will also regulate the Blue Nile’s flow. The dam includes reservoir construction, which will weather the effects of drought and manage flooding during heavier rain seasons. This will provide farmers with a more uniform schedule, rather than being at the mercy of the elements, as it was in the past.
  7. Dam construction is a business that requires tons of manpower. Ethiopia’s GERD is predicted to create 12,000 jobs, which will stimulate both the local and national economy.
  8. The GERD dam will irrigate over 1.2 million acres of arable land. The fertilization of soil will guarantee a successful harvest for millions of farmers. This is crucial to ensuring the growth of Ethiopia’s economy, which is still mostly based in agriculture.
  9. The construction of the dam is transforming formerly arid land to be more useful for the country. The site of the dam was a region of lifeless land about 20km from the Ethiopian-Sudanese border. After the GERD is finished, the artificial lake will hold up to 74 billion cubic meters of water.
  10. Even before the conclusion of the dam’s construction, the GERD will produce electricity. After negotiating talks with Egypt, Ethiopia agreed to extend the filling of the GERD dam from 2-3 years to 5-7. Despite this lengthened timeline, the first of 13 total turbines will be in operation by mid-2021.

With the undertaking of this massive and controversial project, Ethiopia shows it has no intention of stagnating in its goal to reduce poverty. Once Ethiopia’s GERD is completed, Ethiopia’s economy will flourish and the dam will decrease poverty across the nation.

Faven Woldetatyos
Photo: Flickr

Food Security in East AfricaAn apocalyptic scene—swarming locusts blanketing the sky. This is an image the world is mostly unfamiliar with. In fact, locusts are the oldest migratory pest in the world and are often associated with destruction.

A Snapshot of the Problem

There can be as many as 80 million locusts compacted into just a half square mile, and they bring with them devastating effects. In only one day, one square kilometer of these pests can destroy the agricultural produce that could sustain 35,000 people. The FAO states that during plagues, like the ones that occurred in East Africa during 2020, locusts can damage the livelihood of a staggering 1/10 of the world’s population.

Locust migration occurs in a cycle of boom and bust. This biological uncertainty makes it hard for countries to garner the funding, political will, knowledge and capacity to proactively address the threat through long-term infrastructure. However, failure to detect and control locusts proactively can result in devastating plagues. These can require millions of dollars to address and have catastrophic effects on food security, particularly in East Africa. The experience of one Somalian farmer portrays the catastrophic impact these pests have. Abdirahman Hussein Mohamoud relies on his farm to support his family. In May, he lost his entire $5,000 investment in crops to locusts. In his own words, his hard work “has all come to nothing.”

Possible Solutions

The FAO tries to combat the threat of locusts through early detection and warning with its Desert Locusts Information Service. USAID works towards strengthening the government’s capacity to address the threat of locus proactively in addition to the $19 million of US humanitarian response to reduce the size and impact of swarms. However, there is still an overwhelming lack of policies addressing locusts in East African countries. For this reason, there is a heavy reliance on pesticides for rapid response.

The use of pesticides, while incredibly effective for killing locusts, can negatively impact the health of humans and the environment. In Uganda, desert locusts are a common food source and the people often consume them immediately after the use of harsh pesticides. A number of community health advocates are raising concerns with the lack of adequate training and information on the potential impact these pesticides can have on human health. Executive Director of the Mpala Research Centre in northern Kenya, Dino Martins, warns that mass spraying can harm biodiversity as well. Martins points to the need to create more sustainable alternatives to controlling locusts such as biopesticides of pheromones.

Impact of COVID-19

While locusts pose a major threat to food security in East Africa, COVID-19 has made poor communities even more vulnerable. Resources for aid are stretched thin with a high priority on coronavirus relief. Despite this, countries in East Africa have maintained the control and monitoring of desert locusts as a national priority.

However, the slowdown in the global supply chain and cross-border mobility is raising concerns about the difficulty of acquiring pesticides for controlling locusts and protecting food security in East Africa. In March, an order of pesticides from Somalia to Ethiopia was delayed due to cargo flights being cut back. This showcases the dangerous impact COVID-19 can have on controlling the epidemic of locusts. Cyril Ferrand, the FAO’s Resilience Team Leader for East Africa, states access to pesticides is the biggest challenge facing their ability to control the impact of these pests.

Governments are exempting restrictions on movement for locusts control groups, recognizing their need to continue work. The FAO has stated they have been able to continue their efforts despite restriction. For instance, they have been able to treat more than 240,000 hectares with pesticides in East Africa. FAO has also trained 740 people on how to conduct ground control operations for locusts. So far, FAO has raised half of the $300 million it expects to need for pesticides.

Leah Bordlee
Photo: Flickr

Locusts in East AfricaIn 2020, the world is facing many hardships. Especially in East Africa, where swarms of locusts are devastating the local agricultural systems. There can be up to 70 billion locusts in one swarm, with each of them eating their own body weight (about 0.07 ounces) in foliage every day. In total, these locusts in East Africa are eating 300 million pounds of crops per day, in an area the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) notes for its’ “severe food insecurity.”

Influence of Climate Change

Why is this happening in 2020? The answer is climate change, according to experts. Desert locusts, in normal times, are mostly reclusive and don’t often interact with each other. According to these experts, recent and rare cyclones, caused by warming oceans that hit the dry deserts of the Arabian Peninsula in 2018 and 2019, caused the desert to experience rains that it had not seen in a very long time. This caused physiological and mental changes in the locusts that have made them more ravenous than usual.  They grow larger, change color and their brains get bigger. They begin to behave in similar ways to one another and form swarms that can travel over 100 miles per day in search of food.

Funding Needed

This comes amid a global pandemic that is already taking human lives and wreaking havoc on the economy. The FAO is calling on U.N. members to contribute more financial assistance for local governments than it is currently receiving, about an estimated $138 million needed in total. This will go toward ways of combating the locusts, such as the use of pesticides.

COVID-19’s Impact

Imports of pesticides come from the Netherlands, Morocco and Japan, among other outside sources. However, this means that these pesticides that are desperately needed are slowed by COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions placed on cargo. Equipment needed for dispersal of the pesticides is made in China and helicopters meant to track locust movements are from Canada. The international pilots for the helicopters have to quarantine when arriving. All of these roadblocks cause the loss of precious time in the fight against the locusts.

This ongoing issue of locusts in East Africa could get worse if U.N. members do not follow through on the FAO’s funding recommendations. This locust plague, combined with the COVID-19 pandemic, could cause a large loss of life in East Africa. However, the migratory nature of locusts makes it likely they will move to countries where there are national programs in place to address them. Hopefully, with the help of U.N. funds, East Africa can implement successful changes as well.

– Tara Suter
Photo: Flickr

Drones in AfricaThe mission of Zipline, a company started in 2014 and based in San Francisco, is to “provide every human on Earth with instant access to vital medical supplies.” To accomplish this goal, the company has created a drone delivery service where drones in Africa distribute lifesaving medical supplies to remote clinics in Ghana and Rwanda. More recently Zipline has expanded to other locations across the globe, including the U.S.

Poverty in Rwanda and Ghana

Rwanda is a rural East African country that relies heavily on farming. Although the country has made improvements in recent years, the 1994 Rwandan genocide damaged the economy and forced many people into poverty, particularly women. As of 2015, 39% of the population lived below the poverty line and Rwanda was ranked 208th out of 228 countries in terms of GDP per capita. On top of this, Rwanda only has 0.13 physicians per 1,000 people, which is insufficient to meet health care needs according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Ghana, located in West Africa, has fewer economic problems than neighboring countries in the region. However, debt, high costs of electricity and a lack of a stable domestic revenue continue to pose a threat to the economy. The GDP per capita was $4,700 as of 2017, with 24.2% of the population living below the poverty line. Although Ghana has a higher ratio of physicians per 1,000 people than Rwanda, with 0.18 physicians, it still falls below the WHO recommendation of at least 2.3 physicians per 1,000.

Benefits of Drone Delivery Services

On-demand delivery, such as drone delivery services, are typically only available to wealthy nations. However, Zipline evens the playing field by ensuring that those living in poorer and more remote regions also have access to the medical supplies they need. Zipline has made over 37,000 deliveries. In Rwanda, the drones provide deliveries across the country, bypassing the problems of dangerous routes, traffic and vehicle breakdowns, speeding up delivery and therefore minimizing waste. Additionally, Zipline’s drones in Africa do not use gasoline but, instead, on battery power.

Drone Delivery Services and COVID-19

Zipline’s services have been especially crucial during the COVID-19 response. Zipline has partnered with various nonprofit organizations (NGOs) and governments to complement traditional means of delivery of medical supplies on an international scale. This has helped to keep delivery drivers at home and minimize face-to-face interactions. As there are advances in treatments for COVID-19, delivery by drones in Africa has the potential to provide access to the vulnerable populations who are most at risk. At the same time, it can help vulnerable people stay at home by delivering medications directly to them or to nearby clinics, minimizing travel and reducing the chance of exposure. Zipline distribution centers have the capability to make thousands of deliveries a week across 8,000 square miles. Doctors and clinics simply use an app to order the supplies they need, receiving the supplies in 15 to 20 minutes. The drones are equipped for any weather conditions.

New means of providing medical equipment are helping to ensure that the world’s poor have access to the supplies they need. A company called Zipline has been using drones to deliver medical supplies to Africa, specifically in Rwanda and Ghana. During the COVID-19 pandemic, drones have been crucial in providing people and clinics with the medical supplies they need.

Elizabeth Davis
Photo: Flickr

Supercomputer in East Africa
Scientists based in Nairobi, Kenya, with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development Climate Prediction and Applications Center, are successfully combating the worst surge in locusts in 70 years by predicting the conditions and location of future swarms with a supercomputer. The new technology has shown to predict with 90 percent accuracy so far and has saved food crops in Uganda. The scientists’ hope is that a supercomputer in East Africa will protect crops from locusts for other countries as well. Locusts are large, tropical grasshoppers. They threaten the food security of many East African countries such as Uganda, Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya.

The Locust Problem

Since biblical times, locusts have plagued the MENA region (Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan). Locusts eat and destroy vital crops. The traditional spraying of pesticides has controlled the spread of locusts. However, between shortages in pesticides, armed conflicts and climate change, locusts have made a startling resurgence.

In addition to the shortage of pesticides, countries like Kenya lack expertise in controlling the threat to their food supply. Ethiopia is facing the same threat and does not have enough planes to spray its fields. The country needs planes to spray in hard-to-reach areas where workers cannot exterminate. Meanwhile, civil wars in Yemen and Somalia prevent any coordinated response to the surge of the plant-devouring bug. Furthermore, exterminators in those countries have no guaranteed safety in times of war.

Some have blamed the rise of locusts in the region primarily on the extended rainy season and warming seas that have accelerated egg hatching, with strong cyclones spreading the insect farther. According to The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO), people need to address the problem soon. If not, the number of locusts could multiply up to 400 times by June 2020. This could leave approximately 25 million people hungry. The organization warned that the locusts, which have a generation life cycle of three months, have grown 20 times more each new generation.

A Supercomputer in East Africa Can Protect Crops from Locusts

Satellite information scientists, such as Kenneth Mwangi of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development Climate Prediction and Application Center, used a supercomputer model to predict areas of locust breeding that they did not monitor on the ground. The model fills in the information gaps of where new swarms could hatch.

By determining where there may be an upsurge in hoppers, the model is able to target likely areas of breeding for future pesticide spraying. To get to those areas before eggs hatch is crucial in preventing the spread. It also saves money by preventing an uncontrolled swarm. Young locusts or juveniles eat vegetation and reproduce well in 50-70 percent humidity levels and temperatures between 86 F and 104 F.

To date, the supercomputer has predicted where these areas are likely to be with a 90 percent accuracy rate according to the scientists involved.  The Weather and Climate Information Services for Africa Program out of the United Kingdom funds the technology. It uses data such as humidity, soil moisture, wind currents, vegetation cover and temperature to predict where locusts will lay their eggs. The supercomputer then sends the prediction model information to other African countries so they know where to spray. This represents a critical period of time so that the people can begin their cropping season without incident. Major crops in Uganda include cotton, sorghum, millet and maize.

In one instance, the supercomputer warned the Ugandan Government of the likely migration path that locusts would take as they crossed the border from Kenya to Uganda. Then, the government mobilized the army to assist with the spraying efforts and killed millions of locusts and eggs. Uganda has not seen anything like it since the 1960s.

The supercomputer has proven to be an important tool at combating a new (and old) agricultural foe in East Africa. The ability to predict new breeding grounds and swarm migrations in the region has the potential to limit damage. It can also limit the cost of extermination on a grand scale. Uganda is evidence, thus far, of its effectiveness. But the UNFAO warns that if people do not mitigate the crisis soon, the new cropping season will coincide with a booming locusts population that would leave millions without the food on which they depend.

Caleb Cummings
Photo: Flickr

East African FederationA proposed federation between Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda seeks to establish a single currency, political unity, modern infrastructure, improved trade relations and ensured peace. In the 1960s, when many of the above countries won their independence, a political federation was first proposed. Today, all six countries are members of the East African Community (EAC), which started in 1999 as a less ambitious form of unity. The East African Federation remains mostly an idea; however, leaders in all six countries are now working together to see the idea come to fruition.

Where it Stands

The countries began drafting a unified constitution in 2018, which would render each member’s individual constitution subordinate to that of the East African Federation. They have set the deadline for its completion to 2021. The EAC has already neared completion of a monetary union, likely being something akin to the European Union’s euro. The euro has allowed for the free movement of capital, stimulating trade activity between member states. Additionally, all six countries are planning to hold a referendum with their own citizens in order to gauge support.

Ambitions

The countries’ leaders say that a federation will lead to economic development and greater African sovereignty. The advantages of the East African Federation include linkages of infrastructure, which will allow four of the landlocked members to have access to the trading ports of Kenya and Tanzania. Further, the East African Federation, due to its enormity, will have more influence in international diplomacy, and its governmental institutions will become more robust through information sharing.

Limitations

When integration efforts were attempted in the past, they became derailed by individual national interests and existing tensions. While the East African Federation attempts to overcome these tensions, some doubt its ability to do so. Critics point to trade disputes between Rwanda and Uganda and military rivalries between Tanzania and Rwanda as prominent examples for why unity will remain unaccomplished.

The Promise

East Africa’s economy is the fastest-growing on the continent; GDP increased by 5.7 percent in 2018 and is forecasted to hit 5.9 percent in 2019. According to the World Bank’s most recent data, the average poverty rate for the 6 countries is 49.6 percent. Kenya has the lowest rate with 36.8 percent, and Burundi has the highest with 71.8 percent. The East African Federation promises to improve cooperation methods and increase economic potential, yielding greater growth, quicker development and lasting stability for the region.

– Kyle Linder
Photo: Flickr

Secondhand Clothing
Prior to 1980, the domestic clothing and textile industry within the East African Community (EAC) was booming and employed thousands of people. Certain liberalization policies caused the industry to fail, creating a reliance on imported products. Used clothing imports reached $151 billion in East Africa during 2015. Secondhand clothing offers a cheap and quality source of garments for the people within the EAC.

Imports of used clothing are estimated at around 540 million pieces per year versus the 20 million pieces of clothing created domestically each year in East Africa.  Primarily, the United States and Europe, places where people discard large sums of used clothing, sent these imports. These areas donate 70 percent of donated garments to Africa. The EAC initiated the start of a secondhand clothing import ban in 2016 with the goal of accomplishing a complete ban by 2019. The hope is to create a self-sustaining and reliable textile industry that provides jobs for many people.

Taxation in the EAC

The plan was to expand local textile industries prior to the ban, however certain countries within the EAC, such as Rwanda, have already begun raising taxes on imported secondhand clothing. Taxes went from $0.2 to $2.5 from 2016 to 2017, at a 12 percent increase. People who oppose the ban fear that this will disproportionately affect people with lower incomes, rather than support positive industrialization. The opposition also fears that seeing the ban to completion will violate portions of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) where many African countries agreed to lift barriers restricting trade and investment with the United States.

However, the East African Community seems concerned with positive domestic growth and industrialization with the hopes of sustaining its economy. Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda plan to continue to raise taxes on clothing imports, while Kenya has said it cannot economically support the 2019 ban deadline because it is unable to meet domestic demands with local markets.

Creating a Textile Industry

Supporters of the ban have recognized that wearers of secondhand clothing might have a risk of obtaining skin candidiasis, scabies, ringworm, body lice and other health risks. To avoid added health risks and to maximize use of domestic commodities, the East African Business Council (EABC) has expressed the need to use the large production of cotton in the EAC domestically to create textiles, rather than exporting it for low costs. The countries within East Africa continue to work towards an improved domestic clothing and textile industry by creating facilities and advancing technology available towards textile production. Tanzania’s Minister of State, Jenista Mhagama, announced a training program in 2016 that would encourage and assist young people to become tailors.

Despite push back from European countries and the United States, the EAC continues its push towards growing its domestic textile industry and implementing the secondhand clothing import ban. As the EAC fulfills the ban, the impact of this on its economy will become clear.

– Claire Bryan
Photo: Flickr

FoodTechAfricaTwenty-four million people have been affected by the disastrous patterns of droughts in East Africa. These droughts have led to diminished crop yields and have created serious food insecurity in addition to decreased water sources. However, FoodTechAfrica (FTA), a Dutch organization comprised of many agro-food companies, has proposed a plan to feed people throughout East Africa by establishing sustainable fisheries throughout the region.

Growing Populations and Growing Hunger

As populations in East Africa continue to rise, the threat of food insecurity looms even greater. In their current condition, East African countries are simply unable to meet the demand for food, making food extremely expensive and its availability uncertain.

Widespread food insecurity has significant health consequences. Throughout East Africa, 800,000 children suffer from complications resulting from malnutrition. In Ethiopia, 4.3 million people without access to food and water require medical assistance. An estimated six million people in South Sudan are in need of food and water.

While the food crisis in East Africa is serious, it is getting better. Since 1990, protein-energy malnutrition has decreased by 35.7 percent in Kenya and nearly 70 percent in Ethiopia.

Aquaculture

FoodTechAfrica’s goal is to increase food security in East Africa using aquaculture, a form of food production very common in the Netherlands. Aquaculture is essentially fish farming, which can be conducted on small, household scales or at industrial levels, with minimal harm to the environment. Fish are a protein and nutrient-rich resource that can be produced sustainably, feeding millions of hungry people and appeasing malnutrition.

Unlike livestock farming, aquaculture requires little land to produce large yields. Farming fish rather than fishing from seas and rivers allows for the nutritional benefits of fish without the environmental damage of over-fishing. FTA’s aquaculture methods involve recirculation throughout fish pens, which conserves precious water.

Food and Jobs

FoodTechAfrica has set its sights not only on providing food throughout East Africa, but also jobs. The Kamuthanga Fish Farm, created by FTA, is the largest aquaculture operation in Kenya. This facility alone provides 58 skilled positions to local workers and is training even more. FTA has ensured that at least 25 of these jobs belong to women. Kamuthanga is capable of producing up to 1000 tonnes (1,000,000 kilograms) of fish per year, which is enough to feed approximately 140,000 people.

As FTA establishes more fisheries in more countries, more food and jobs are created. While the plan is simple, its execution will help assuage the complex issue of hunger in East Africa.

– Mary Efird

Photo: Flickr

Poverty_AidThe 2015-2016 El Niño was only the third ‘Super’ El Niño in recorded history. Experts fear this event’s impacts may have been further worsened by global warming. Those impacts have fallen disproportionately on some of the most impoverished areas of the world, and aid is needed to address the El Niño environmental poverty crisis now affecting millions of people.

El Niño, an array of global changes in climate patterns due to the warming of surface waters in the Equatorial Pacific, is not an uncommon event. Typically it is expected every three to seven years. However, the 2015-2016 El Niño produced record-level climate events, unprecedented even in an El Niño year.

In the 2015 northern Pacific hurricane season 25 level four and five hurricanes developed. The previous annual record was only 18. Meanwhile, Eastern Africa is experiencing its worst drought in 60 years. Globally, 2015 temperatures were at a record high resulting in El Niño and global warming pushing climate patterns in the same direction.

El Niño has had a dire impact on the global poor, with many of the hardest hit areas having insufficient infrastructure to confront the damage. Oxfam notes that the current El Niño cycle has placed 60 million people in danger of hunger.

While the climate changes associated with El Niño are fading as it comes to an end, the livelihood-related damage it has caused continues to wreak havoc on the security of impoverished communities.

In areas like Eastern Africa, the failure of crops and the death of cattle will require substantial recovery efforts. As wells go dry, it is not uncommon for drought-displaced families to spend months on end sleeping on the floor of relief centers.

The El Niño environmental poverty crisis reaches across the globe.  Environmental poverty as a result of drought has put 1.5 million Guatemalans in need of food assistance. 3.5 million people are struggling for food in Haiti, where El Niño amplified the preexisting conditions of a 2014 drought. 15 percent of the population in Honduras and three million in Papua New Guinea are at risk for the same reason.

With these figures representing a mere fraction of the countries and communities suffering due to El Niño, the need for support is expansive. Thankfully, significant action is being taken by the international community and significant aid is being mobilized.

The European Union has contributed 125 milllion euros to areas affected by El Niño, dispersing the aid throughout Africa, Central and South America and the Caribbean. This record-breaking contribution from the EU towards the El Niño crises will fund emergency actions.

USAID has relied on early tracking of El Niño-related crises to make their relief actions as effective as possible. They are using in place mechanisms designed to push emergency funds into relevant development programs, while also adjusting existing development programs to accelerate recovery. USAID is focusing their humanitarian aid on the most affected areas, addressing, and often mitigating disaster.

Finally, technological aid has also been a source of relief. Partnerships like UNICEF and the Ethiopian government have allowed satellite technology to be implemented to better locate well-sites and map drought-affected areas.

The combination of technological, financial, and humanitarian aid has been instrumental in addressing the environmental poverty spurred by the 2015-2016 Super El Niño. While these environmental conditions have been disproportionately destructive to the poor, these mechanisms continue to work to mitigate the effects of the El Niño environmental poverty crisis.

Charlotte Bellomy

Photo: Flickr