Millions of the world’s poor will suffer from hunger this year and next because of droughts linked to rising global temperatures and the potential onset of a powerful El Niño weather system, the aid group Oxfam warned in a report released Thursday.
“In the immediate future, increasing climatic disruption, driven by rising temperatures, threatens to increase pressures on the humanitarian system at a time when resources and capacity are under enormous strain,” the report said.
El Niño influences global weather patterns as heat from warming seas is released into the atmosphere, reinforcing the chances of drought in some areas and heavy rains in others. It happens approximately every seven or eight years, and is expected to peak between October this year and January next year. The last severe disruption occurred in 1997 and 1998.
Across the world, climate change’s and El Niño’s effects on the rainy season have already begun to reduce harvest yields.
Paltry rains in Ethiopia left 4.5 million people in need of food aid. Two to three million Malawians may face a similar fate as a back-to-back floods and droughts wilted maize production by more than a quarter. And it is the same story in Zimbabwe where drought cut the maize harvest by 35%, Oxfam said.
The timing could not be worse for East Asia. Scant rains are expected during rice planting season in Indonesia this year, Oxfam said.
Two successive years of droughts related to El Niño have already wrecked havoc on Central America’s harvests.
Meteorologists, national governments and international agencies have already raised warnings about the looming humanitarian crisis. Still it is not too late, Oxfam said, to prepare. It has been just weeks since world leaders pledged to eliminate hunger by 2030, and U.N. climate talks will begin in Paris in December.
But action has been slow in the past. Late rains in the Horn of Africa in 2011 were met with an anemic humanitarian response that left millions to suffer and 260,000 to die, Oxfam said. “The same must not happen in 2016,” Oxfam said.