Global scale of El Niño-fuelled devastation on poor people revealed by Oxfam in new global map

Campaigns and Advocacy, Humanitarian Advocacy, Media Releases, News article written on the 04 Mar 2016

At least 60 million people around the world are now certain to face worsening hunger and poverty throughout 2016 because of El Niño-fuelled drought and crop failures. The international community can still help prevent an even deeper crisis, but it will take more speed, organisation and resources.

Damage is hitting different countries in different ways. The common factor is that despite their best efforts, many governments are simply being overwhelmed. Agriculture, water supplies and food production are bearing the brunt of the destruction.

Today, Oxfam publishes a global online map showing the different impacts that El Niño-fuelled droughts and erratic weather are having on poor people around the world. It also describes some of Oxfam’s work since last year to respond to the crisis, and includes a call to action to world leaders.

Oxfam Australia’s Chief Executive Dr Helen Szoke said the imperative now must be to maintain a lifeline for affected communities, at least until normal harvests were possible and food security was strengthened.

She said that while the Australian Government had made commendable contributions to respond to drought in Papua New Guinea and other parts of the Pacific, as well as Ethiopia and Somalia in the Horn of Africa, the magnitude of the crisis meant that more funds for immediate humanitarian needs were urgently needed.

“El Niño has been like a slow-motion train crash,” Dr Helen Szoke said. “Alarms were rung. Preparations were made. But the scale and damage has been overpowering.

“El Niño has ushered in a series of extreme and erratic weather patterns, primarily very high temperatures, drought, and some flooding that have caused havoc, most acutely for poor people – typically farmers in developing countries and those who depend on their crops for food and trade.

“Existing poverty, and the impact of an already changing climate, makes people much more vulnerable to such shocks. In this regard, El Niño has been highly discriminatory, visiting the most harm upon the very people who are least able to resist and don’t have the same assets or options as rich people.

“We see in Fiji at the moment that the impacts of Tropical Cyclone Winston are compounding existing vulnerabilities resulting from an El Niño related drought, which has led to water shortages and reduced crop outputs.”

Oxfam also urged the Australian Government to further invest in longer-term work – such as social protection and resilience-building programs, as well as stepping up action on climate change and ensuring that people are better able to withstand future crises. For Australia, this includes setting a path to reach zero emissions as soon as possible, in line with global efforts to limit warming to 1.5C, and providing greater support to vulnerable countries with adapting to the impacts of climate change.

“The devastation caused by this El Nino shows why rich countries need to provide support now and set ambitious climate adaptation funding targets,” she said. “They failed to do this at the climate change conference in Paris last year. This can’t wait any longer.”

For further information please contact Laurelle Keough on 0425 701 801 or