El Niño is back and with a vengeance. Parts of eastern Africa, namely Ethiopia, Malawi and Somalia, and South Sudan are facing critical climate conditions. Some have been suffocating by drought; others have been swamped by heavy rains, and even flooding. And sometimes one country, like Ethiopia, faces both weather crises.

The effects of this climate system started in December 2015, but it’s expected to reach full throttle by mid-2016, extending even into 2017. Millions of people are in need of humanitarian assistance: Food insecurity is growing; entire harvests have been wiped out, and more are at risk of drying out. Bad conditions and no nutrition mean water-borne diseases can spread more easily—the need for easy-to-access clean water is more urgent than ever.

East Africa is in the grip of a severe drought. Two successive years of below-average rainfall (caused by one of the worst El Niños in history) have left some parts of Somalia, Ethiopia, Malawi, Sudan and South Sudan facing their worst drought and critical climate conditions in decades. Entire harvests have been wiped out and nomadic farmers who move with the seasons in search of water and fertile land have watched their livestock die before being left stranded with nothing. Now, the erratic downpours of the all-too-short rainy season mean some communities are facing drought and flash flooding simultaneously, as well as struggling with the spread of water-borne diseases. The forecast offers no relief, with warnings that conditions could get worse through 2016. In Somalia, urgent action is needed to avoid repeating the mistakes of 2011-2012 when famine claimed the lives of 250,000 people. Half of these people were already casualties before the famine was declared, proving we cannot wait for the label of “famine” to be applied before we take action.

At a glance…

  • Close to 20 million people in the region are facing critical and emergency food insecurity levels, according to the UN.
  • In Ethiopia alone, it’s predicted that 2.2 million children under 5 years, pregnant women and nursing mothers will need to be treated for moderate acute malnutrition in 2016 – more than double the number in 2015.
  • In Somalia, an alarming 40% of the population needs assistance and urgent humanitarian action is now needed to avert a bigger disaster like the 2011-2012 famine that resulted in the death of over a quarter of a million people, including 133,000 children under five.
  • In Sudan, 90% of the 3.5 million people affected by El Niño are in need of water and the drought is so severe that 46 percent of wells have failed. Women and girls, the traditional water carriers, are making longer journeys at greater risk.

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