El Nino effects and impact on the continent: Commissioner Abdullahi underscores the need for a strategic response

Aisha Laraba Abdullahi
H.E Dr. Aisha Laraba Abdullahi, Commissioner for Political Affairs of the African Union

H.E Dr. Aisha Laraba Abdullahi, Commissioner for Political Affairs of the African Union (AU) held a joint press conference with H.E. Kyung Wha-Kang, ASG for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, UNOCHA, to address the issue of the El Nino effect in Africa. During the press conference that took place at the margin of the 26thAU Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the AU Commissioner for Political Affairs said the broad effects of El Nino and La Niña phenomena can be categorized into three: erratic climate, weather extremes and altered ecosystems and habitats, all three effects are risky to human health and society.

Mrs. Kyung Wha-Kang began by thanking the AU Commissioner for the efficient collaboration existing between the Political Affairs Department of the AU under her leadership and the UNOCHA. She said they have both visited countries affected by drought and other natural disasters to bring their support to the population and to implement joint strategies aimed at mitigating the crisis. “The consequences of the El Niño phenomenon have resulted in successive droughts and floods affecting many countries, especially those in the Horn of Africa and Southern Africa”, noted the UNOCHA representative.

According to Commissioner Abdullahi, the climatic effects observed in the AU Member States could lead to distressing economic and social consequences due to lowcrop yields and its corollaries, such as reduced agricultural production, loss of livestock, rise in food prices and risk to public health, all resulting in reduced coping capacity of affected communities.

Meanwhile, the Commissioner revealed that the El Nino and La Nina have affected almost the whole continent, in Southern Africa; the agriculture season in the region is experiencing erratic heavy rainfall as a result of rising sea temperatures. Malawi and Mozambique have in recent times been inundated with excessive rainfall, which has resulted in emergency responses to mitigate the devastating effects in affected parts. On the contrary, several other countries in the same region are also experiencing drought as a result of absence of rainfall due to lowering sea temperature from the Atlantic Ocean.

With the current effects of El Niño expected to continue through early 2016, the Commissioner for Political Affairs stated that, it is envisaged that the dearth of rainfall will lead to poor harvests for some countries, thus a significant reduction in earnings from agriculture. However, other countries in the region are expected to receive heavy rains which could result in flooding. She explained that in West Africa, above average rains brought floods in the beds of the main rivers, destroying crops, washing away urban and rural settlements, leaving thousands of people homeless. River Niger burst its bank and caused extensive damage to agricultural land as well as livestock.

In West African states, meteorological forecast predicts flooding, which are already manifesting in countries as Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Guinea and Mali. In many of these countries, forecasts predict instances of cyclical impacts, where severe droughts will succeed or results to excessive rainfalls or vice versa. This will bear heavy strains to existing community’s resilience and coping strategies for affected populations. “Further impacts will be felt on food security, economic sustenance, migration and security. For instance, the partial failure of the 2014 rainy season had left between 300,000 and 400,000 people in the Sahel without access to secure food supply. An estimated 20.4 million people suffer food insecurity in early 2015, 70 percent of who are in Niger, Nigeria, Mali and Chad” she underlined.

Responding to a journalist about the situation in Eastern Africa, the Commissioner said it is not different as the region has been experiencing the consequences of the El Nino phenomenon, which has impacted negatively in a variety of ways. She recalled that the region experienced a variable impact of climatic vagaries, ranging from floods affecting more than 3.4 million people in 2006/2007 to drought affecting more than 14 million people in 2009/2010. The humanitarian impact of La Nina, the sister phenomenon is sometimes greater, especially when it immediately follows an El Nino.

“Following severe flooding in lower Juba region in Somalia, Southern Ethiopia and some parts of Kenya are beginning to experiencedrier than normal conditions, there is drought inSouth Sudan, Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, North-Eastern Ethiopia, Kenya and Northern Tanzania” noted the Commissioner. She added that, apart from the impact of the severe drought currently raging, flooding continue to result in population displacement. “This has resulted in the displacement of about 144,000 people in Somalia and an estimated 76,000 people in Kenya, according to the National Disaster Operations Center of Kenya and further flooding is still expected in the region”.

Commissioner Abdullahi further explained that, the situation in North Africa is evident in the Saharawi Refugee Camps in Tindouf, Algeria was inundated with more than normal rainfall in the course of last year. This led to the destruction of the minimal infrastructure in the camp.

In the case of Central Africa, She said the country is facing the effects of the twin phenomena of El Nino and La Nina. In Chad, Northern Cameroon and Central Africa Republic (CAR) there is a perennial dry spell leading to drought, on the other hand, severe and unduly heavy rainfall has led to rising water level of the Congo River, flooding is also being experienced along the riparian states of Congo Brazzaville, DRC and the southern part of CAR. Of course, this has led to enormous loss of agricultural land, livestock, food stock, leading to food insecurity.

The Commissioner informed journalists that, the African Union, through its sub-committee on SEAFA will address the Union on this devastating situation and the need for immediate response by the Union. “There is need to develop a concerted but diversified continental response. This is informed by the cross border nature of the consequences and effect of the El Nino phenomenon”.There should be a regional approach for sustainable response to the issue of major rivers bursting their banks, for instance, appropriate water management policy including climate adaptation strategies that allows for information sharing and environmental adaptation to reduce fatalities due to flooding.

Commissioner Abdullahi advised that, Member States should as a first step, implement their commitment under the Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction and implement the 1.5% budget allocation to disaster risk reduction. “It should be reminded that drought situations lead to famine, therefore, it is imperative that appropriate measures are taken to ensure that effective food stock pile and distribution are implemented to stave off famine”, she emphasised. She urged the Member states to embark on agricultural practices that contribute to sustainable food stability.Finally, the African Union is doing all it could to provide requisite leadership by way of making available necessary resources to support regional efforts.

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