Climate-fuelled La Niña in East Africa will drive millions into hunger, warns Oxfam ahead of UN Climate Action Summit

Friday, December 11, 2020
Photo by Abdiaziz Adani/Oxfam

Over 50 million people are in need of immediate food assistance in the Horn East and Central Africa, with numbers expected to rise as the region braces for harsh, climate fuelled La Niña conditions, said Oxfam today. The warning comes as world leaders prepare to meet for a virtual Climate Ambition Summit.

Starting mid-December, South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Uganda are likely to suffer from below average rainfall as a result of a strong La Niña, which could push millions more to hunger in 2021.

“The forecasted dry season will be the last straw for many, devastating their remaining crops and cutting their lifeline of food and income,” said Lydia Zigomo, the Regional Director at Oxfam in Horn, East, and Central Africa.

Farmers, who make up almost 80% of the region’s population, have already been hit hard by severe floods, the worst desert locust plague in half a century - both supercharged by the climate crisis - as well as the economic fallout of COVID-19 pandemic.

The climate crisis is already causing longer and more severe droughts across the Horn, East and Central Africa region, and is likely to increase the frequency and strength of La Nina events.

On top of this heavy rains in locust breeding grounds, again exacerbated by the climate crisis, have led to the biggest swarms in 70 years. Since January, locusts have caused $8.5 billion worth of damage across the region including to nearly 100,000 hectares of cropland in Somalia, an estimated 200,000 hectares in Ethiopia and about 70,000 hectares in Kenya, killing livestock and causing food shortages.

The infestation in Ethiopia is feared to be the worst on record at a time of the “meher” harvest, a crop that contributes 80% of the country’s total harvest. According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation, swarms are expected to move south in Somalia and Ethiopia, reaching northern Kenya from mid-December stretching to January. A single swarm can contain up to 150 million locusts per square kilometre of farmland.

“We used to have three meals a day, but with the locusts and COVID-19, not anymore. For now, we sell our animals to sustain our families but with the curfews and lockdown it’s not easy. Our movement is restricted,” says Noor Maalim Abdi, a Kenyan farmer.

"The locusts destroyed our crops at the time we were expecting to harvest. I've never seen infestations like this before, and the saddest thing was that we couldn't do anything about it. Then COVID-19 came, and because of the lockdown, seed and pesticides prices went up. We could not afford to buy these necessary things. We don't have enough food at the moment, but we're trying to rebuild again,” says Abdilaahi Wayrah, a Somali farmer who works with Oxfam.

Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan and Tanzanian were responsible for less than 0.2% of the global carbon emissions between 1990-2015 despite being home to 0.3% of the global population. The top 10 most polluting countries, including US, China and Japan were responsible for 500 times more carbon in the same period.

“The incredible resilience of the most vulnerable people across the Horn, East, and Central Africa is being tested to breaking point by a combination of disasters that are not of their making,” added Zigomo.

“Urgent action is needed to provide the assistance desperately needed by millions of hungry people.

“At the UN Climate Summit, world leaders must also commit to more ambitious action to cut carbon emissions and prevent a catastrophic rise in global temperatures. Rich polluting industrial nations must also provide more climate finance for adaptation to help poor communities - and particularly farming communities - adapt to a changing climate. They should also commit to support vulnerable countries with new sources of international finance for loss and damage caused by more extreme and erratic weather.

Oxfam and its partners are supporting more than 897,000 people in Ethiopia, Uganda, South Sudan, Somalia, and Tanzania with food, clean water and sanitation, cash assistance and seeds. Oxfam has also reached 3.5 million people in September and 2.6 million in October with COVID-related support.

Notes to editors: 
  • The total cumulative emissions between 1990-2015 of South Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda taken together amounted to only 0.89GtCO2. The 10 top emitting countries US, China, Japan, Russia, India, Germany, UK, Italy, Canada, France together emitted about 468GtCO2 over the 25-year period.
  • The top 10 emitting countries in terms of cumulative emissions 1990-2015 were: US, China, Japan, Russia, India, Germany, UK, Italy, Canada, France. Together they emitted about 468GtCO2 over the 25 years period.
  • Download Oxfam’s carbon inequality report HERE.
  • La Niña refers to cooler than usual ocean temperatures in the eastern part of the Pacific Ocean, which occurs on average every 3 - 7 years. It usually affects temperatures, precipitation, and storm patterns in many parts of the world. In East Africa, La Niña results in drier than usual seasons. According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) the current La Niña event could last until 2021 and is expected to be moderate to strong.
  • The climate crisis is causing longer and more severe droughts across the Horn, East, and Central Africa region, and is likely to increase the frequency and strength of La Nina events, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasts.
  • Ethiopia is now the epicentre of the locust crisis. Swarms are moving both towards Somali region but also towards Eritrea and further north to eastern Sudan. If rains continue, we might have another generation developing with 3 generations breeding between now and April 2021 (FAO).
  • The pandemic has been having a devastating impact on already fragile livelihoods and unstable economies in the region. Some of these impacts include reduced agricultural productivity, weak supply chains, increased cross border trade tensions, limited employment prospects.
  • With just 1C of warming, the climate crisis is causing longer and more severe droughts across the Horn, East and Central Africa region, and is likely to increase the frequency and strength of La Nina events. Without urgent action scientists predict at least 3C of warming by the end of the century.
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