El Niño in East Africa

In the Horn of Africa region, a drought exacerbated by El Niño has directly affected the region, leading to an increase in food insecurity and malnutrition. As of March 2016, the FSNWG reports close to 19.5 million people in the region are facing critical and emergency food insecurity levels, a slight decrease from February due to ongoing harvests. Food security assessment results from Sudan and Eritrea are however not yet available and this may alter the overall number. In Ethiopia alone WFP and UNICEF predict that 2.2 million children under 5 years, pregnant women and nursing mothers will need to be treated for moderate acute malnutrition (MAM) in 2016 – more than double the number in 2015.

Enhanced rainfall due to El Niño was favourable to most of Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and Tanzania; leading to good pasture, crop development and replenishment of water sources and an overall improvement in the food and nutrition security for the last season (Oct-Dec 2015). Excessive rains in late 2015 however led to flooding that affected an estimated 600,000 out of an expected 2 million people in parts of Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda. We also saw a rise in the spread of water/vector borne diseases in the region. The World Health Organisation (WHO) reported cholera outbreaks in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, DRC and Ethiopia.

While the El Niño event has started to weaken, IGAD-ICPAC and global climate partners predict that the impact is likely to be felt through 2016. There is likely to be further deterioration in food security and nutrition in affected areas during the lean period (March- May), up to June-August 2016 when green harvests can be expected.

Historic El Niño impact in the region

Historically El Niño had a variable impact on the region, ranging from floods affecting more than 3.4 million people in 2006/2007 to drought affecting more than 14 million people in 2009/2010 (source: EMDAT). While there are sub-regional differences, historical comparisons show that overall humanitarian needs in the region are higher in El Niño years than non-El Niño years.

Similarly, the average overall humanitarian impact of a La Niña event is sometimes even greater, especially when it immediately follows an El Niño (source: EMDAT). For example, the 1988 floods affecting 2.5 million people and the 1999 drought affecting 31.5 million people were both associated with a La Niña event following El Niño. The 2011 drought, which affected nearly 14 million people in the Horn of Africa, was also associated with La Niña. It is therefore imperative that countries continue their resilience programming for the most vulnerable, as well as preparedness and early warning activities even beyond this El Niño phenomenon.

El Niño response in the region

Although the El Niño event has started to weaken, IGAD-ICPAC and global climate partners predict that the impact is likely to be felt through 2016 and the humanitarian response is ongoing. 


The Government of Ethiopia is strongly in the lead of the El Niño response, and has committed over US$380 million to provide humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable. This includes provision of food assistance and mass water trucking operations. WFP is supporting the Government in providing food assistance to 7.6 million people in 2016, but funding is low and could lead to a break in assistance by May. At least 708,000 moderately malnourished children and pregnant and breastfeeding mothers in priority areas were treated as of mid-March. As of March, more than 350,000 people have received 5 liters per person per day. A measles campaign is tentatively scheduled to launch in mid-April and will target 25 million children in 505 drought-affected and at-risk woredas. To encourage school attendance, humanitarian actors are calling for more support for teachers, including in the provision of drinking water and personal hygiene, cooking and learning materials.


In Somaliland and Puntland 95 partners are working to scale up the response. Thanks to reprogramming of existing resources and additional funding received in late 2015 and early 2016, hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable people have already been assisted. Among others 41,000 people received livelihoods support, 183,000 people were reached with improved access to food and safety nets, such as cash vouchers and unconditional cash. Supplementary feeding programmes have reached 4,000 children and pregnant and lactating women to date. Access to water was improved for 30,000 people. In addition, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation reports that 259,000 people were reached with bilateral food assistance in Somaliland. Humanitarian partners have been trucking water to villages, and they have distributed jerry cans, constructed Berkads and dug shallow wells. Borehole and well rehabilitation is ongoing.


Since November 2015, some 7,500 people (1,500 families) have arrived from Ethiopia and settled in Ali Sabieh (3,500), Dikhil (1,500) and Djibouti city (2,500). On average, they had 3 heads of livestock per family, which is far below average and under the minimum number to continue pastoral activities. The number of people displaced by drought is expected to increase over the coming months, up to 12,000 by the end of May. Humanitarian partners in Djibouti are seeking urgent funding to address the needs of these new arrivals. 

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Regional funding update

The deteriorating humanitarian situation should be seen against a backdrop of inadequate funding levels. Less than 10 per cent of the US$10.4 billion appeals in the region have been financed (OCHA FTS).

The first six months of 2016 will be critical to increase preventative action against the cumulative effects of climate and conflict on the region and to scale up a robust response to humanitarian needs.



El Niño Contingency and Response Plans