• El Nino re-occurs every two to seven years on average and typically lasts 9-12 months.
• UN says funds are urgently needed to carry out anticipatory actions at scale and in time.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is in urgent need of Sh24.3 billion to support over 4.8 million people affected by El Nino through March 2024.
This will reduce the likelihood of families resorting to negative coping mechanisms, such as selling assets or skipping meals.
Amid the looming threat of El Nino expected to severely affect millions of people, the UN food agency has launched an updated Anticipatory Action and Response Plan.
This is aimed at reducing the projected impacts of this climate phenomenon on agricultural livelihoods and food security of the most at-risk and vulnerable populations.
FAO defines El Nino as a natural climate phenomenon, in which surface waters of the central and eastern Pacific Ocean become unusually warm and cause changes in weather patterns around the world.
It re-occurs every two to seven years on average and typically lasts 9-12 months.
Rein Paulsen, Director of the FAO Office of Emergencies and Resilience said funds are needed most immediately to carry out anticipatory actions at scale and in time.
“With the latest predictions pointing to a greater than 80 percent chance of El Nino continuing through March-May 2024, it is paramount to strengthen agri-food systems to be more resilient to the upcoming climate shocks to prevent loss of lives and livelihoods,” he said.
He noted that as of 30 October 2023, FAO had mobilized Sh5.3 billion leaving a gap of Sh18.9 billion.
“With that, the UN agency has already initiated anticipatory actions in 19 prioritized countries and reached 700,000 people," said Paulsen.
This is thanks to flexible funding from resource partners such as Belgium, Canada, the Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection of the European Union, Germany, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Countries covered by the plan include Kenya, Afghanistan, Angola, Bolivia, Cambodia, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Fiji, Guatemala, Honduras, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Rwanda, Somalia, Timor-Leste, Uganda, Viet Nam, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Venezuela.
The countries were identified based on an assessment of the historical impacts of El Nino and other key factors, such as the latest seasonal climate forecasts, agricultural seasonality, and current vulnerabilities.
In Eastern Africa, for example, El Nino is associated with above-average rains during the October-December rainy season which may result in heavy rainfall episodes, flooding, and landslides, especially in eastern Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and southern Uganda.
On November 10, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua said the government had put up a raft of measures to address the ongoing El Nino rains.
He said the government has deployed aircraft for evacuation of the marooned families to safe grounds, and put up mobile health facilities where infrastructure has been destroyed or marooned.
The DP said the state is also supplying safe, clean water and addressing other sanitation concerns in various rescue centers.
The Ministry of Roads and Transport is undertaking emergency repair and rehabilitation of roads to improve access.
Gachagua added that the Emergency Response Committee is coordinating a consolidated approach for efficiency and effective action to prevent duplication of the response as well as ensuring no place or person is left behind.
"We are monitoring the progress of the rain patterns for measures of averting catastrophic outcomes. The Ministries of Health and Agriculture (animal diseases) are also on the ground monitoring the situation to prevent possible outbreaks of diseases," he said.
"With weather projections pointing to possible prolonged rains up to the First Quarter of 2024, we are keen on sharing safety messaging, especially sensitization of communities living in lowlands and landslide-prone areas to evacuate to safer grounds."
Gachagua added that the country is also sharing distress call numbers with the public to ensure people report and ask for swift assistance in case of emergencies.
The FAO Anticipatory Action and Response Plan covers two critical time windows including acting ahead of El Nino shocks to prevent their impacts and delivering first responses where devastation from El Nino could not be avoided.
Paulsen said the plan aims to mitigate El Nino disaster impacts through anticipatory actions.
This includes helping fishers protect their boats ahead of storms, reinforcing river embankments ahead of floods, distributing drought-tolerant seeds to rainfed farmers, and protecting livestock health.
This is in addition to capitalizing on the positive spillover effects of El Nino and offset losses.
For example, supplying seeds to flood-affected farmers so they can plant and regain a harvest as flood waters recede.
The plan will also seek to deliver early response where El Nino causes devastation through prepositioning the most time-sensitive supplies such as veterinary medicines, seeds, and water bladders.
It will also help in providing cash to severely affected families to meet their most immediate needs.
“Some of the most urgent activities in this plan require funding as soon as possible, including to get the right seed varieties to farmers to secure a crop despite the odds of drought or flood conditions,” Paulsen said.