Aid agencies call upon donors to commit funds to save lives in countries hit by El Nino

Copyright: Andrew McConnell/Panos

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A number of the world’s leading aid agencies warned that an inadequate response to El Nino would put an already overstretched humanitarian system under intense strain and put tens of millions more people at extreme risk of hunger, homelessness and disease.

Funding is urgently required to prevent millions more men, women and children around the world from going hungry, suffering water shortages, falling ill and seeing their livelihoods collapse.

World Vision’s El Nino response director, Kathryn Taetzsch, said: “Donors need to commit funds now in order to save billions of dollars and countless lives over the coming weeks and months. According to the United Nations, every dollar that is invested in disaster preparedness and resilience now could save up to $7in emergency relief if a disaster unfolds over the coming months.”

The current El Nino is one of the worst on record. In Ethiopia, the government estimates that 10.2 million people will need humanitarian assistance in 2016, at a cost of $1.4 billion, in addition to the 8 million people who will receive support under the national safety-net program. Tens of millions of people in East and Southern Africa are now suffering in the midst of drought or floods, with millions more people affected in Latin America and the Pacific.

The humanitarian agencies, including Oxfam and World Vision, warned UN member states that the humanitarian system was already massively underfunded – with the gap between need and funding the largest ever. In 2015, $19.9 billion in humanitarian funding was needed. Only half was given. This year’s appeal of $20.1 billion launched by the UN and its partners is designed to meet the needs of nearly 88 million of the most vulnerable people in 37 countries. A number of countries that are affected by El Nino are not factored into this global appeal.

Nigel Timmins, Oxfam International’s Humanitarian Director said: “If the world acts now, we can help prevent disaster and suffering for millions of people – rather than waiting for people to start dying.  The aid community has helped communities avoid the worst effects of disasters linked to El Nino on a small scale in countries like Kenya and Malawi, but what is needed now is a combined international effort – we can and need to do this right.”

The agencies said that it was important to apply the lessons of the 2011 Horn of Africa food crisis in which 258,000 people died in Somalia alone – half of them children under 5. The 2012 report ‘A Dangerous Delay’revealed that the response to the drought in Somalia was too little too late and that the crisis unfolded as predicted.  Speedy funding to enable humanitarian agencies to prevent severe childhood malnutrition, save livelihoods and boost resilience programming is now essential.

The agencies also said affected governments need to respond to this year’s crisis by doing more to put in place social safety nets, disaster preparedness plans and building resilience.

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