Poverty in MadagascarAs the weather changes from the 2015–2016 El Niño, its impact is still felt around the globe. For already drought-prone Madagascar, this means continued crop failure and a widespread need for emergency food aid. As rain has failed and market prices have risen, 1.1 million Malagasy have lost their food source, compounding the hardships already felt by many as a result of enduring poverty in Madagascar.

While residents of Madagascar have faced significant periods of drought over the years, failing crops and widespread malnutrition, accompany one of their worst droughts in recent history. By some estimates, over 80 percent of the country has lost a source of steady food supply as a result of those crop failures. The subsequent rising of market prices has compounded the problem.

Food scarcity and market fluctuations in Madagascar mean increased hunger for one of the most impoverished nations in the world. Already, 70 percent of Malagasy people suffer from malnutrition, and the average inhabitant earns $1 a day.

Of those Malagasy people suffering from malnutrition, approximately one million are children. Children under the age of five are quite vulnerable to stunted growth as a result. Due to poverty in Madagascar, such stunting occurs there at one of the five highest rates in the world.

Compounding the many issues related to poverty in Madagascar is the lack of aid they receive. Its isolation as an island nation causes some to argue that inhabitants’ needs are frequently overlooked. The urgency of the crisis can also cause the aid which does arrive to be less effective. For example, for the starving residents of one Southern Madagascar town, when their crops failed they were sent seeds from USAID and the World Food Programme. However, their situation had been rendered so desperate that they were unable to wait to plant and harvest the crops, and instead ate the seeds themselves.

The crisis has been ongoing, with the past three years being marked by rising temperatures and irregular rainfall. Harvest projections predict continued food scarcity through September 2016, and potential crisis exacerbation through to March 2017.

In the face of augmented urgency in Madagascar, the need for emergency food aid is increasingly dire. Dina Esposito, Deputy Assistant Adminstrator to the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance (USAID) has announced that the U.S. will provide $8 million in aid to Madagascar as they face the current crisis and disconcerting projections of upcoming harvests.

The current 2016 rainy season has been the worst in the past 35 years in Madagascar, leading to the declaration of a national disaster in the country. However, despite the dire circumstances, hope for aid continues. For some inhabitants in especially hard-hit areas, relief comes in the form of a single daily meal, prepared and offered by nuns.

More broadly, relief and hope are drawn from international aid like that announced by USAID, as well as that already received from the United Nations World Food Programme and other organizations. Through contributions from organizations like these, Madagascar receives food aid, help with cultivation efforts and the opportunity to trade services for food.

Charlotte Bellomy
Photo: World Food Programme

Dry CorridorClimate change and El Niño have left 3.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in Central America’s “Dry Corridor,” according to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras are experiencing extensive deforestation and soil degradation, exacerbated by the drought that has tormented these three dry corridor countries since 2014.

El Niño warms the Pacific Ocean’s surface, creating a hotter and drier environment. The effects of El Niño have only been exasperated by climate change, which causes longer dry spells and more frequent flooding.

While the changing environment presents detrimental challenges to those living in the Dry Corridor, the pre-existing states of poverty and hunger contribute to the problem. Out of the 10.5 million people living in the Dry Corridor, 60 percent are living in poverty, according to IFAD.

Small-scale farmers and rural areas are the first to feel the effects of the drought. With the decrease in crop production comes the risks of reduced dietary diversity, increased hunger among the poor, as well as a rise in malnutrition. There has been a 50 to 90 percent loss of crop harvests and 1.6 million people are food insecure, said FAO, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N.

The United Nations held a meeting on June 30 at the Rome FAO headquarters to discuss the drought in Central America. Various U.N. organizations are training farmers to adapt to climate change and strengthen their food security. Farmers need support planting trees, creating more efficient irrigation systems, advancing rainwater harvesting and growing drought-resistant crops over shorter periods.

FAO is implementing risk prevention methods to help combat the impact of the drought. They are creating early disaster warning systems and assisting national and local abilities in risk management. FAO is also aiding farmers with agricultural rehabilitation and providing seeds for drought-resistant crops.

IFAD is training farmers in El Salvador to improve soil water conservation while helping them to build water-collecting structures. In addition, they are providing communities with the tools to improve basic household functions, like energy efficient stoves and low flow latrines.

The World Food Program (WFP) is distributing Super Cereal Plus to suffering communities in Honduras. The food supplement is enriched with nutrients and vitamins, to help children under five who are in danger of malnutrition. WFP is also giving aid to 600,000 families that are struggling with hunger until the end of August 2016.

Despite these efforts, there is currently a $17 million funding gap in humanitarian aid for countries in the Dry Corridor, according to FAO. An urgent response by the international community is necessary to continue to help small-scale farmers and people living in poverty survive the effects of El Niño and climate change.

Erica Rawles

Photo: Flickr

Climate-smart Agriculture

Although El Niño responsible for extreme weather changes around the world since the end of 2015, more productive and resilient farming practices are necessary to mitigate the future impact of climate change in Africa: Climate-smart agriculture.

A new briefing paper by the Montpellier Panel, consisting of African and European experts from the fields of agriculture, trade and ecology, have determined that African food security and agricultural development policies will fail if they do not promote farming practices that are climate-smart. The panel’s conclusion comes as Southern Africa tries to recover from a severe drought caused by the strongest El Niño in decades.

The Montpellier Panel’s paper critiques the Malabo Declaration, which was signed by member states of the African Union in 2014. It commits to doubling agricultural productivity by 2025 to feed Africa’s rapidly growing population. Increasing investment in agricultural sectors and boosting intra-African trade in agricultural services are among the main instruments the union will rely on to end hunger.

The Montpellier Panel argues that the targets set by the Malabo Declaration underemphasize the risk of climate change on food security, productivity and the importance of investing in Africa’s science potential. According to the briefing paper, African countries must integrate climate-smart programs. These are currently small in scale and set up by international or local NGOs into larger agriculture investment plans.

Climate-smart agriculture involves increasing productivity, strengthening resilience to sudden weather changes and minimizing farming-related greenhouse gas emissions in a sustainable manner.

The Montpellier Panel’s release of the paper occurred as Africa tries to recover from the worst drought in a generation, which is linked to El Niño.

The Southern African Development Community has reported that crop failure and livestock deaths as a result of water shortages has led to higher food prices. Additionally, they have caused an estimated 41 million people in Southern Africa to become food insecure with 21 million needing immediate food assistance.

In Zimbabwe and Madagascar, last year’s harvest decreased “by half compared to the previous year because of substantial crop failures,” according to the Montpellier Panel. Cereal producers from South Africa to the Democratic Republic of Congo have also experienced a 9.6 million metric ton shortfall in production. South Africa is facing a 2.6 million ton deficit in maize harvests, the SADC said.

Although El Niño has ended and water deficits may improve if a La Niña weather pattern develops, climate change is expected to continue to have a significant impact on Africa. Over the next decades, mean temperatures across the continent will increase faster than the global average. Sea level rise will threaten land in the Nile Delta and other coastal areas.

The Montpellier Panel has recommended ways for African countries to expand the use of climate-smart agriculture and help farmers overcome the impact of droughts and other extreme weather changes.

The briefing paper stresses the need for investments in innovation and scientific research. These investments will develop drought-tolerant crops and expose farmers to more efficient agricultural methods that can improve soil fertility and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Reliable climate information services that provide weather forecasts and insurance programs that compensate farmers after severe climate events can also increase reliance.

Several countries have already experienced the benefits of climate-smart agriculture.

In Kenya, bucket drip kits supported by the Kenya Agriculture Research Institute have helped farmers deliver water to crops effectively and at a cheaper cost than other irrigation techniques. According to the Montpellier Panel, high-iron beans and orange maize have also become staple crops in Zambia because of their ability to tolerate droughts and heat.

Sam Turken

Photo: Pixabay

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

Drought in EthiopiaOn May 13, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, USAID announced that it will be giving an additional, much-needed $128 million in humanitarian aid to the country to help mitigate the impact of the drought in Ethiopia, the worst in 50 years.

Acting Assistant Administrator for the Bureau of Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Affairs Thomas H. Staal and Commissioner Mitiku Kassa of Ethiopia’s National Disaster Risk Management Commission jointly announced the additional aid. Kassa said that the Ethiopian government had contributed $381 million to relief efforts. The U.S. has contributed $705 million in humanitarian aid to Ethiopia since October 2014, and $211.5 million in USAID money to Ethiopia was spent on humanitarian assistance in 2015, specifically.

The most recent addition to the U.S.’s humanitarian aid is intended to provide relief food assistance, safe drinking water, nutrition services and mobile health clinics to help with the huge impact of the drought in Ethiopia. Due to recent rains, USAID is also sending seeds for food production during the expected upcoming rains.

According to NPR reporter Gregory Warner, this drought has not conjured up the typical images of African famine, such as pictures of starving children with distended bellies. Ironically, this has caused some trouble for Ethiopia’s fundraising efforts, said Warner, as there has not been as much media attention given to the drought. Of the $1.4 billion necessary to provide both food and nonfood amenities for the 10.2 million affected people, the country has only secured 54 percent, with the U.S. as its principal donor.

The drought in Ethiopia is the result of El Niño and successive poor rainy seasons. According to Warner, over a third of the country’s crops failed over multiple harvests. Now that the rains are coming, though, there are concerns that this will bring about further difficulties, such as flooding.

The region is incredibly vulnerable to climate change due to its reliance on agriculture and rain-fed agriculture, in particular. According to USAID, though, one of the benefits of providing aid to Ethiopia is its potential as a trading partner, saying, “A healthy and prosperous Ethiopia will increasingly contribute to the stability and economic progress in the region and, as such, is an important trading partner and security ally for the United States.”

Anastazia Vanisko

Photo: Flickr

Over the next five months, the El Niño weather system is expected to continue dropping torrential rains in East Africa and causing severe droughts in Ethiopia, which is facing conditions not seen in three decades.

According to the USAID, the number of people facing food insecurity in Ethiopia will likely increase from 2.9 million to over 8 million by the beginning of 2016. But officials say they are ready and confident that systems are in place to mitigate the worst effects of this annual meteorological phenomenon.

“Improved early warning, the establishment of the Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP), as well as serious engagement from the government of Ethiopia means that we are not likely to see the kind of famine conditions witnessed in Ethiopia in earlier decades,” said USAID Director of Food for Peace, Dina Esposito.

Her remarks accompanied the announcement that USAID will commit an additional $97 million to bolster PSNP for at-risk communities in the region.

The Productive Safety Net Program was launched in 2005 by the government of Ethiopia with support from the World Food Programme (WFP) to provide immediate relief from low crop yield and create agricultural sustainability moving forward.

PSNP provides regular food and income transfers to food insecure households over six-month periods during dry seasons, and it obligates aid recipients to participate in training programs on sustainable farming, land rehabilitation and water management.Food_Insecurity_in_Ethiopia

Katana Kusiya, a participant of PSNP in 2009, said that the aid was enough to feed her family of 11 for one month. In exchange, she received training on building wells and capturing rainwater efficiently. This training will hopefully result in communities like Katana’s relying less on sustenance farming and moving toward productive farming.

By investing in the safety net, development partners are hopeful that rural communities will develop an ability to resist the shock of unfavorable weather patterns, like El Niño, and become less food insecure in the long term. In its first three years, the program reached 7.5 million people and delivered 78,000 tons of food.

This newest commitment by USAID will include 154,000 tons of direct food assistance and a $58 million donation to the Catholic Relief Services for the transfer of an additional 105,700 tons of food.

The organizations are acting quickly to provide these transfers in order to ensure that 3.5 million vulnerable households, including refugees from neighboring Somalia, Eritrea and South Sudan receive aid in a timely manner.

For UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, El Niño also presents an opportunity to re-engage the conversation about linkages between climate change and food insecurity in countries like Ethiopia during the upcoming climate conference in France.

Severe weather patterns regularly devastate agricultural productivity in developing countries, leading to famine and loss of life. “[El Niño’s] intensity and potential destructiveness should be a wake-up call as world leaders gather in Paris,” he said.

In the meantime, USAID is working quickly to provide the government of Ethiopia with all the support it needs to prevent loss of life this season. $600 million in aid, they estimate, will be required to effectively deal with the emergency.

Ron Minard

Sources: AllAfrica, BBC, IB Times, WFP
Photo: UN Multimedia, Wikipedia

Strong_El_Niño_Season_Prompts_Necessary_MeasuresFear has been renewed over El Niño, a climate event that is known to generate disastrous impacts.

The United Nations and the World Health Organization (WHO) are scrambling to coordinate with regional offices to discuss disaster preparedness strategies for the upcoming El Niño season.

According to National Geographic, El Niño “is a climate pattern that occurs when the surface waters of the Pacific Ocean become unusually warm.” The warming trend is caused by “weakened trade winds” that allow for warm water to displace cool water that is otherwise normally found in the Eastern Pacific Ocean.

El Niño is often characterized by torrential rain, as evidenced by Hurricane Patricia late last month. It is important to note that it is also associated with crippling droughts, such as what is occurring in Ethiopia.

One of the regions that are bracing for El Niño is found east of Australia in a chain of islands know as the Pacific Islands.

“These coming months have the potential to be the most testing period in the history of the Pacific Islands,” said Magareta Wahlström, head of the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).

According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), approximately 4.5 million people across 11 countries are under El Niño watch.

The effects of the climate pattern are far reaching. It can have calamitous affects, resulting in destroyed infrastructure and human displacement. Because El Niño occurs near impoverished geographic locations, the need for preparation is imperative.

“The El Niño phenomenon is a major concern to global public health as it has the potential to exacerbate health risks associated with extreme weather in different parts of the world,” stated a WHO status report issued recently on Health Preparedness for El Niño Event 2015-2016.

The two agencies are working directly with the Ministries of Health, providing advice on risk management as well as constructing contingency plans. Additionally, they are looking at the best ways to rebuild after disaster occurs.

While the U.N. and WHO are collaborating with regional offices, they are also operating at an international level, finding solutions to improve emergency response as well as raising awareness on the issue.

Alyson Atondo

Sources: National Geographic, UN 1, UN 2
Photo: Wikimedia


From July to September of this year there’s been just one day of rain per month where “it should have been raining every other day,” Mr. Yasin, a local farmer in Ethiopia, told reporter Jacy Fortin of NY Times. His crops have since failed as this year’s drought in Ethiopia erodes away his land and his stability.

Reportedly caused by this year’s potent El Niño, the drought is beginning to take its toll on this country where 80 percent of the population works in agricultural productivity. Because of this, 40 percent of the country’s economic output is from the agriculture, which makes for a bad mix.

This drought is estimated to put 8.2 million people in need of food assistance; that nearly doubles the count before the drought began which was 4.55 million.

This year, however, is not the first time this country has faced a massive drought; in 2002, the GDP of Ethiopia dropped 2.2 percent as a result of widespread crop failure from a drought. Once before then the country had fallen to drought since there was a drastic famine that spurred massive aid to the area as a result.

Ethiopia’s government plans to outsmart the drought this year and has come up with ingenious precautions and early action initiatives to supplement its food aid assistance. In doing so, it hopes to establish a source to cling to throughout the drought’s duration.

Since July, the parliament has allotted $192 million in food aid, water transport and animal feed with the hopes of sustaining a viable option even with the effects of the drought. This plan was adopted because early warning systems in Ethiopia are capable of providing large windows of time before possible droughts occur.

Despite this domestic solution, more is needed to successfully pull through the crippling natural disaster. The conditions have forced the government to raise international funding requests by $164 million in order to fully assist all those in need.

Only about 43 percent of the total $596 million request has been met, but international aid does take time to fully take effect, so Ethiopian officials are expecting more soon. They also claim that the drought could last up to a year and estimate a staggering 15 million could be in need of food assistance in 2016.

For now the Ethiopian government must stress the importance of rationing food, and individuals must find new ways of providing monetarily and nutritionally for their families.

Emilio Rivera

Sources: NY Times, University of Notre Dame
Photo: Flickr


As El Niño once again stirs the atmosphere. Skiers look forward to a good amount of snow and developing countries anticipate disaster.

El Niño is defined as “above-normal sea surface temperatures in the eastern and central equatorial Pacific Ocean.” It occurs every two to seven years and can last for several months.

When ocean temperatures change, so do wind and precipitation patterns and land temperatures. Some areas receive life-saving rainfall while others experience heavy flooding and droughts. Tropical cyclones and wildfires are also common side-effects.

Countries vulnerable to harsh weather, such as agriculture-based economies and areas with unstable infrastructure, face famine, disease and increased poverty. Economies without the means to make repairs deteriorate further, and families are left homeless and hungry.

This year, as the world faces one of the strongest El Niños in 50 years, USAID is implementing natural disaster education in vulnerable countries. The more prepared a country is to respond to and prevent natural disasters, the quicker its economy can recover.

In New Guinea, where a combination of drought and floods decimated the sweet potato crop and left many without a source of income, USAID is providing agricultural training to make fields more resilient. Techniques such as planting over last season’s crop stubble and using cover crops help the soil retain three times as much moisture.

Latin American meteorologists are learning to use the Flash Flood Guidance System to predict flash floods. Studying rainfall and absorption buys as much as six hours to evacuate people and animals. It’s not a lot of time, but it’s enough to prevent heavy casualties.

As more people move in Nacala, Mozambique, they risk settling in areas that are vulnerable to the climate. Flooding, erosion and water scarcity can damage infrastructure and impede development.

USAID founded the Climate Resilient Infrastructure Services program to educate newcomers about climate vulnerabilities and high-risk areas, as well as teach natural disaster response techniques. Climate change awareness saves a lot of money and prevents future heartache.

Similar to Nacala, Vietnam has begun studying climate change and proper responses. One of its cities, Hue, experiences frequent heavy floods, which encourage extreme poverty and disease.

USAID is helping Hue, and Vietnam in general, to predict flooding and create infrastructure that can withstand heavy water over an extended period of time.

As a result of warnings, communities in Africa organized food, medicine and housing in anticipation of natural disasters and resulting diseases. El Niño is occurring more frequently in Africa, leaving little time for recovery, so food and supply storage is vital.

Families who lose their homes and occupations can utilize the supplies until they regain their livelihood. Instead of dissolving, communities will remain intact and functional and poverty will be kept at bay.

Natural disasters leave thousands dead or impoverished each year, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Natural disaster education saves lives and prevents poverty. Instead of having to rebuild their lives from the ground up, people in developing countries can continue to move forward and improve their situations.

Sarah Prellwitz

Sources: USAID 1, USAID 2, NOAA, Accuweather, IB Times, Live Science
Photo: Wikimedia

food crisis
Some of the Pacific Ocean is warmer than usual – a seemingly innocuous fact, but it actually explains the devastating drought afflicting one of the world’s poorest countries. Because of El Niño, the name for the sporadic increase in temperature in this band of ocean water near the Pacific coast of South America, some regions in Nicaragua have seen little rain during the past several months and the May harvest has failed, resulting in a food crisis. The citizenry is now calling on President Daniel Ortega to implement policies to compensate for rising food prices.

As El Niño develops from June to August and the waters of the equatorial Pacific warm, the Nicaraguan climate becomes warm and dry. This year, the country’s western and central areas have been extremely dry. According to the Nicaraguan Institute for Territorial Studies, rainfall in some of these areas has been as much as 88 percent lower than average. One farmer described the amount of rain he has seen over the past few months as “not enough to really even wet the earth.”

As a result, both the bean and maize crops failed in May. Approximately eight out of every ten rural inhabitants depend on these crops for their livelihoods, according to New Agriculturist. Many are asking how Nicaragua, where roughly 1.2 million people were undernourished in 2012, will find a way to feed the second poorest population in Latin America, especially with food prices on the rise.

Dairy and beef producers have warned the government that their production could fall by 50 percent if the drought continues into September. Livestock owners have adjusted by purchasing expensive feed and medicine that they hope will save as many cattle as possible. They pass their increased costs of production on to consumers. And despite these measures, cattle are still dying in droves. More than one thousand cattle have starved to death, according to one agricultural union.

Nicaraguans facing this food crisis are demanding President Ortega act to mitigate it. Thus far, his administration has met with farmers to discuss their options, has expanded a government program that provides meals to thousands of families and has ordered the importation of millions of kilograms of beans and white maize, which will hopefully keep food prices from skyrocketing until the September harvest. In addition, millions of schoolchildren receive free meals consisting of “rice, beans, fortified cereals, wheat flour and vegetable oil” from the U.N. World Food Programme.

However, if the September harvest also fails, the country could face a famine. Farmers used their profits from last year to buy seed for May’s harvest, but now they must borrow money to buy the seed for September’s. If Nicaragua’s drought continues past September, many farmers fear they will have nothing left.

In June, the European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) reported that there would be a 90 percent chance of El Niño occurring this summer. However, the Nicaraguan government could do little with that information because the ECMWF lacks the means to predict the phenomenon’s intensity.

It is also worth noting that El Niño’s effects have varied from country to country. Some farmers in other countries, such as mango farmers in Brazil, expect to benefit from the rains that El Niño brings to those regions. This one weather phenomenon brings prosperity to some and destitution to others.

– Ryan Yanke

Sources: New Agriculturist, IPS, World Food Programme, NOAA 1, NOAA 2, World Bank, Time, Fresh Fruit Portal
Photo: OrganicConsumers