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 June 2016, the FSNWG reports close to 24 million people in the region are facing critical and emergency food insecurity levels. In Ethiopia alone, 10.2 million people require emergency food assistance to meet their basic food needs, and some 458,000 children are projected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition (SAM) and 2.5 million children from moderate acute malnutrition (MAM) during the year.

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 and in the March to May rainy season of 2016 however led to flooding in parts of Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda. Heavy rains intensified in late April, affecting nearly 410,000 people, displacing 231,916 people and killing 271 people in the region. 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, and DRC, and Acute Watery Diarrhea was reported in Ethiopia.

While the El Niño weather event can now be considered over, IGAD-ICPAC and global climate partners predict that the impact is likely to be felt through 2016 and into 2017. 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. On top of this, there is now a 55 to 60 per cent chance that a La Niña weather event will develop during the fall and winter this year.

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. At the moment, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association 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


The Government of Ethiopia is leading the El Niño response, and together with humanitarian partners, released a Prioritization Statement in May 2016 to urgently clarify additional acute relief needs and major response and funding gaps. The Statement predicts an increase in the number of food insecure and acutely malnourished people (to be confirmed following the completion of the on-going belg/mid-year assessment in late June 2016) with the start of the lean period (June-September) without substantial increases in humanitarian assistance. The prioritization exercise has already identified an increase in projected cases of MAM, from 1.7 million children under 5 and pregnant and lactating women to 2.5 million. Nearly 150,000 households will require shelter and non-food items due to exceptional and worsening flooding, conflict over access to resources, the recent cross-border raid from South Sudan, and the continuing impact of the drought.

Ethiopia has also been affected by floods, which affected some 236,000 people and displaced nearly 200,000 people. The rains caused food dispatch and distribution delays in May, although distribution has increased again since the end of May thanks to a break in rains. With the rains filling ponds and surface water sources, there is a potential spread of the Acute Watery Diarrhoea (AWD) outbreak. At least 1,884 AWD cases have been reported in 26 woredas across Oromia, and Somali regions, according to WHO since December 2015.

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. As of early May 2016, humanitarian requirements in the education sector have doubled over the original Humanitarian Requirements Document  due to planned efforts to extend the 2016 school year/semester to allow completion of education of students whose learning was interrupted due to the drought, and to ensure continued school feeding for the start of the next school year.


Nearly 4.7 million people, or 38 per cent of the population, are in need of humanitarian assistance in Somalia. Of these people, 1.7 million are in drought-affected Puntland and Somaliland. The recent Gu rains have decreased the drought somewhat in certain areas and created opportunities for recovery among affected people, but the crisis remains of serious concern given the cumulative impact of up to four failed rainy seasons in parts of the country. With the Gu rains ending earlier than expected, projections are indicating a deterioration of food security conditions, especially in parts of central and southern agricultural livelihoods of Somalia in the post-Gu period (July-December 2016.

At the same time, the rains also brought flooding and diseases. As of June 2016, some 70,000 people were temporarily displaced by flooding along the Shabelle River in Belet Weyne, Hiraan region. An AWD/Cholera outbreak was reported in southern and central Somalia. More than 10,000 cases have been reported by July 2016. This is a 140 per cent of cases reported in 2015. Children under age 5 accounted for 59 per cent of reported cases. 

Since October 2015, humanitarian partners have scaled up critical life-saving and life-sustaining assistance in parts of Puntland and Somaliland. Clusters are prioritizing an integrated approach. 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. Since the launch of the Call for Aid in March 2016 seeking $105 million to reach more than one million people with assistance, humanitarian partners continue with critical life-saving assistance. Between January and May 2016, health partners delivered health care services to more than 174,000 people in Puntland and Somaliland. In the same period, the Food security cluster reached nearly 300,000 people with food and safety net-related interventions. Approximately 93,000 people benefited from activities aimed at building livelihoods. Another 177,000 people received livelihood seasonal inputs including seeds, farming tools, fishing equipment, irrigation vouchers and livestock treatment and distribution. The Education cluster reached over 26,000 learners while about 43,000 people benefited from protection activities. The Nutrition cluster admitted more than 34,600 acutely malnourished children into outpatient therapeutic and targeted supplementary feeding programmes. The WASH cluster reached nearly 242,000 people with temporary and sustainable access to safe water. Mobile health clinics and hygiene promotion activities are ongoing in the affected areas.


Rainfall was between 25 and 95 per cent of the average and varied widely betweenEastern Africa El nino Snapshot different states, with the Darfur states, Eastern Sudan and the Kordofan states most affected by below-average rains. Consequently, many crops were planted four to eight weeks late across most of Sudan’s rainfed agricultural areas and just 65 per cent of the planned cultivation area was planted. Crops may not have had enough time with sufficient soil moisture to reach maturity and there are high chances of poor harvests across Sudan’s rainfed agricultural zones. All of the 600 hafirs (water dams) across Sudan have dried up. According to FEWSNET, the purchasing power of poor households in pastoral and agropastoral areas continues to decline as livestock prices drive reduced terms of trade and staple food access. As a result, the lean season started two months early in March / April.

Some 3.5 million people are already affected by El Niño in 82 localities in Abyei PCA, Al Gezira, Blue Nile, all Darfur states, Gedaref, Kassala, all Kordofan states, Red Sea, Sennar and White Nile states and are in need of support. This includes 1.5 million women and over 680,000 children. Many IDPs and poor households in the SPLM-N controlled areas of South Kordofan are expected to face emergency (IPC 4) food insecurity. Crisis food insecurity (IPC 3) are likely in much of Darfur, Red Sea State, and parts of Kassala and North Kordofan states. An estimated 280,000 children with acute malnutrition are expected to require preventive and life-saving assistance in 72 El Nino-affected localities around Sudan.

Food security, food aid and water management projects are underway in those localities of Sudan most affected by El Niño, as highlighted in the El Niño Mitigation and Preparedness plan. A review of many of these projects is currently underway, the results of which should be available in early May.


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.

Regional funding update

The El Niño impact has exacerbated an already dire humanitarian situation in a region where humanitarian requirements are high. As of early July 2016,  $5.8 billion is required to address humanitarian needs in the region. Only 39 per cent has been funded to date. Of this, Ethiopia has the highest El Niño related requirements, totalling $1.52 billion of which $545 million is outstanding. The Sudan El Niño Mitigation and Preparedness Plan called for $82 million to assist 3.5 million people. In Somalia, a drought Call for Aid was issued in March 2016, requiring $105 million to support over one million people.

El Niño Contingency and Response Plans