El Niño: 2.3 million Central Americans will need food aid, UN warns in latest alert

Three women plant seeds on a farm in Chimaltenango, Guatemala. Photo: World Bank/Maria Fleischmann

12 November 2015 – Some 2.3 million people in Central America will need food aid as the current El Niño weather pattern, one of the strongest on record, exacerbates a prolonged drought, the United Nations warned today in the latest alert on the impact of the phenomenon which causes floods in parts of the world and drought in others.

“Unfortunately, another dry spell in 2015, this time exacerbated by El Niño, has again caused significant losses during the first crop cycle, the Primera season,” UN World Food Programme (WFP) Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean Miguel Barreto said in Panama.

“This has hit small producers and their families who were struggling to recover from the previous year’s drought, and the number of people in need may increase soon.”

The WFP alert came just two days after UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Anthony Lake warned that 11 million children are at risk from hunger, disease and lack of water due to El Niño in eastern and southern Africa alone.

Mr. Barreto said $75 million is needed in Central America, where the drought has already lasted two years in the Dry Corridor that stretches from Guatemala to Nicaragua, but resources are being depleted. WFP assisted more than 200,000 people in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras last year.

More than 65 per cent of households in the ‘Dry Corridor’ had no food stocks left at the start of the 2015 Primera season and latest forecasts indicate a 100 per cent probability that the current El Niño, which has been active since last March, will continue through December and likely persist until early 2016.

WFP is grateful for critical support from Brazil, Canada, Chile, the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID), the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), Germany, Guatemala, Japan, Mexico, Republic of Korea, Switzerland and the United States, Mr. Barreto said.

“However, we estimate that increasing numbers of people will need sustained assistance through the 2016 Primera season – which starts every year in April and ends with the harvest in August and September,” he added.

Last week the UN World Health Organization (WHO) announced that it is ramping up efforts with regional offices and partners to help countries curb potential deaths, illness, malnutrition and psychosocial effects resulting from El Niño.

Noting that the current event is one of the strongest ever measured and that the last major El Niño in 1997/98 wrought widespread havoc and erased years of development gains, the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is co-hosting an international scientific conference at Columbia University, New York, later this month to boost resilience.

“The world is much better prepared for this year’s El Niño, but the socio-economic shocks will still be profound,” the agency says.


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Credit: WFP