The UN agencies’ efforts to help more than 60 million people affected worldwide by the climate cycles are exposing weaknesses in local and international systems.
Berlin/Rome: Three Rome-based UN agencies are keen to avert further havoc wreaked by the twins with euphemistic names – ‘The Little Boy’ and ‘The Little Girl’ – and are calling for governments and the international community to ramp up efforts to safeguard livelihoods of some 100 million people around the world.
“The new pattern of climate events [better known by their Spanish designations, El Niño and La Niña] is exposing weaknesses in our preparedness, in international and government systems and in community infrastructure,” says the newly-appointed UN Special Envoy on El Niño and Climate ambassador Macharia Kamau.
UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon appointed ambassador Kamau (Kenya’s permanent representative to the UN in New York) and Mary Robinson (former President of Ireland, former UN high commissioner for human rights and founder of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice) as his Special Envoys on El Niño and Climate in late May 2016.
They are tasked with calling attention to the more than 60 million people around the world affected by severe El Niño-linked drought and climate impacts, and mobilising an integrated response that takes preparedness for future climactic events into account. About 40 million in east and southern Africa alone, are expected to be food insecure due to the impact of the El Niño climate event.
As part of their new roles, the special envoys have been travelling to meet with El Niño-affected communities around the world to understand their challenges and priorities: Ambassador Kamau travelled to Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste in the Asia-Pacific region, and Mary Robinson travelled to Ethiopia.
“Both rapid and slow-onset climactic events are exposing years of poor investment and preparedness, demanding a much better financed and integrated response,” Ambassador Kamau warned at an event jointly organised at the Rome headquarters of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on July 6, 2016. The meeting included the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP).
Ambassador Kamau added, “These climactic events are also exposing the vulnerability of our grand plans for fighting poverty and sustaining our infrastructure. The SDGs are under threat and we should recognise this moving forward.”
SDGs – Sustainable Development Goals – are the new global development agenda with a 2030 deadline comprising 17 goals and 169 targets endorsed by world leaders in September 2015.
The three agency chiefs also urged greater preparedness to deal with the possible occurrence later this year of a La Niña climate event, closely related to the El Niño cycle that has had a severe impact on agriculture and food security. The Horn of Africa, southern Africa, Central America’s Dry Corridor, the Caribbean islands, southeast Asia and the Pacific islands have been hit the hardest.
According to the UN, scientists are predicting an increasing likelihood of the opposite climate phenomenon, La Niña, developing. This will increase the probability of above average rainfall and flooding in areas affected by El Niño-related drought, whilst at the same time making it more likely that drought will occur in areas that have been flooded due to El Niño.
The UN estimates that without the necessary action, the number of people affected by the combined impacts of El Niño and La Niña could top 100 million.
Participants in the Rome meeting included the minister in the Prime Minister’s office of Lesotho, Kimetso Henry Mathaba; the minister for livestock, forestry and range of Somalia, Said Hussein Iid and the minister of public service, labour and social welfare of Zimbabwe, Priscah Mupfumira. Keynote speakers included World Meteorological Organization secretary-general, Petteri Taalas, and UN special envoy ambassador Macharia Kamau.
They noted that almost $4 billion is required to meet the humanitarian demands of El Niño-affected countries and that almost 80% of this is for food security and agricultural needs.
Mobilise new resources
FAO director-general José Graziano da Silva warned that the impact of El Niño on agricultural livelihoods has been enormous and with La Niña on the doorsteps the situation could worsen.
“El Nino has caused primarily a food and agricultural crisis”, Graziano da Silva said. He announced that the FAO will therefore mobilise additional new funding to “enable it to focus on anticipatory early action in particular, for agriculture, food and nutrition, to mitigate the impacts of anticipated events and to strengthen emergency response capabilities through targeted preparedness investments”.
Mobilising resources for rapid action now can save lives and minimise damage while reducing costs in the future, noted WFP executive director Ertharin Cousin. “The massive impact of this global El Niño event, exacerbated by persistent poverty and chronic hunger in many countries, threatens the food security of millions of people who are the least able to cope,” she said.
“Farms have failed, opportunities for work have evaporated, and nutritious food has become increasingly inaccessible for many communities,” Cousin added. “But new humanitarian crises are not inevitable if we invest in support for communities and provide the tools and skills required to endure climate-related shocks.”
IFAD associate vice president, Lakshmi Menon, reminded the global community not to forget about small-scale farmers, who are the most vulnerable to these extreme weather events.
“Small-scale farmers in rural areas are disproportionally impacted by these natural disasters because many of them depend on rainfed agriculture for their lives and livelihoods, and they do not have the capacity to bounce back from shocks. We need to invest in building their long-term resilience so when the next El Niño and La Niña cycles hit, they are better prepared and can continue to grow food for their families,” she said.
UN special envoy Kamau noted that the humanitarian community in partnership with governments and regional authorities have developed a number of plans in order to respond to the current El Niño event, and that these plans are multi-sectoral and require longer-term, predictable funding in order to ensure they are fully implemented.
Drought has gripped large swathes of east and southern Africa and has also hit Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Vietnam, while El Nino-associated storms have wiped out harvests in Fiji and some of its neighbouring island states.
Participants noted that in southern Africa a three-month “window of opportunity” exists before the 2016-2017 planting season begins and that adequate interventions, including agricultural input distributions are urgently needed to avoid the dependence of millions of rural families on humanitarian assistance programmes well into 2018.
In southeast Asia, drought and saltwater intrusion are threatening the livelihoods of farmers in Vietnam and also seriously impacting household food security and cash availability. With the monsoon season fast approaching, most farmers need to purchase inputs for their upcoming agricultural and animal production activities.
While in the Pacific region the Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands and Palau have already declared a state of emergency and below-normal rainfall is forecast to continue across the northern and western Pacific areas threatening the livelihoods and well-being of 1.9 million people.
FAO, IFAD, WFP working together
The meeting underlined how the three Rome-based agencies are working to fend off the devastating impact of the climatic events.
The FAO, for example, is supporting more than 50 000 households in southern Africa, including in Zimbabwe with livestock survival feed and drought-tolerant sorghum and cowpea seeds, and in Malawi, by vaccinating small livestock and providing drought-resistant cereals and irrigation support. In Lesotho and Mozambique, the FAO has been strengthening national response and providing coordination support.
Throughout the Horn of Africa, in partnership with governments NGOs and other UN agencies, the FAO is also coordinating drought-related interventions, providing agricultural inputs, helping to rehabilitate water structures and animal health and production, and plant and animal disease surveillance and control.
In the Asia Pacific region, the FAO’s El Niño response includes a detailed assessment of the situation in Vietnam where it is also on standby to provide emergency seeds and tools. In Fiji, the FAO is currently providing emergency assistance to 1,050 households as part of the Cyclone Winston response.
The FAO is working with partners in Papua New Guinea to support farming families in the worst affected provinces with drought-tolerant seeds and smart irrigation material (e.g. drip-irrigation systems). In Timor-Leste, additional maize and cover crop seeds are being distributed to farmers affected by El Niño.
Building climate resilience to drought and other extreme weather events is a priority in IFAD-supported projects and this is helping vulnerable families cope with the impacts of El Niño. For example, in Ethiopia, small-scale irrigation schemes have ensured farmers are less dependent on rainfed agriculture. This is coupled with training in more sustainable water usage, water harvesting techniques and rehabilitation of degraded soils.
In the Mekong Delta of Vietnam, IFAD-supported projects are helping farmers to access saline-tolerant rice varieties and to diversify their incomes into small-scale aquaculture, so they are not solely dependent on rice and can continue to earn incomes during the drought.
World Food Programme has rapidly scaled-up relief operations to assist communities grappling with El Niño’s impacts, providing emergency food where needed or cash to buy food where markets are functioning. In Ethiopia, more than 7.6 million people have received food assistance from the WFP and more than 200,000 people have also received cash transfers.
In Swaziland, the WFP has launched emergency food distributions and in Lesotho, has begun cash-based transfers. In Malawi, the WFP will scale up its new lean-season food assistance programme to reach more than 5 million people by November. In Papua New Guinea, over 260,000 people affected by El Niño-related food insecurity are receiving WFP food assistance.
Resilience-building is integrated into emergency responses when possible. In Zimbabwe, a grains production pilot supported by weather-based financing facility FoodSecure trains smallholder farmers in climate-smart agriculture and the use of drought-tolerant grains.
The Rural Resilience risk management Initiative (R4) has provided El Niño-related payments to affected farming families in Ethiopia, Malawi and Senegal. The WFP also works closely with African Risk Capacity, an insurance pool to lower the cost of the response to disasters before these become humanitarian crises.”