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El Nino Contributing to Worst African Drought in 35 Years

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El Niño & La Niña contribute to worst South African drought in 35 years

Impacts from the current El Niño are affecting nations across the globe, and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA) is most concerned about Southern Africa and the current drought conditions.

A statement released by the UN-OCHA indicated that the ongoing drought is the worst drought the region has seen in 35 years, and conditions could further deteriorate with the onset of La Niña closer to the end of this year.

Currently, the UN-OCHA estimates that 40 million people face food insecurity -- a number that is likely to rise in the coming months. The statement also noted that urgent humanitarian aid is needed for at least 23 million people, and funding is not on par with present needs.

National emergencies already declared among nations, provinces

A total of five countries have already declared national emergencies due to drought conditions, including Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe. Eight out of nine South African provinces have also declared national emergencies, which is a large concern because 90 percent of the nation's maize is produced within these provinces.

With the onset of La Niña, coping capacities are likely to be exceeded, further escalating the need for humanitarian aid and possibly reducing any developmental gains already implemented. The UN-OCHA also stated shifts in rain patterns due to La Niña could create localized flooding, yet no programs have been introduced in the area to help populations capitalize on rainfall.

Focus on understanding and coordination

A conference today in London, hosted by UN-OCHA, focused on these issues in hopes to better understand local, national, and regional impacts of El Niño and La Niña in Southern Africa and how to provide a faster response through a more coordinated effort between donors and partners.

Efforts include bringing better awareness and increasing responses, but the UN-OCHA warned that both must be stepped up immediately due to a "narrowing window of opportunity to reduce mortality, alleviate suffering, and enable early recovery."

Coordinated, multi-sectorial humanitarian approach required

In order to address the needs, the UN-OCHA recommended a multi-sectorial humanitarian approach that would focus on the immediate need of food scarcity and longer term issues such as increased malnutrition, reduced potable water availability, higher drop-out rates among school children, and the likely increase in communicable diseases.

The organization is also encouraging the participation of the private sector, especially in agricultural development.

Overall, better coordination among agencies, along with increased humanitarian responses and funding, is needed to help promote resilience through, among others, the development of risk mitigation strategies and shock-responsive national social protection systems.

Kimberly Arsenault Kimberly Arsenault serves as an intern at the Cleveland/Bradley County Emergency Management Agency where she works on plan revisions and special projects. Previously, Kimberly spent 15 years in commercial and business aviation. Her positions included station manager at the former Midwest Express Airlines, as well as corporate flight attendant, inflight manager, and charter flight coordinator. Kimberly currently holds a master's degree in emergency and disaster management from American Public University.