The 2015-2016 El Niño cycle could bring significant flooding to areas of the eastern Horn of Africa, according to a new FEWS Net Alert released this week. Southern Ethiopia, eastern Kenya, and south-central Somalia are among the areas likely to be affected. FEWS NET warns that the situation could mirror the El Niño-driven floods and subsequent food insecurity seen in 1997, when flooding displaced close to 2 million people throughout the region and led to widespread crop and livestock loss.
Rainfall in the region has already been above average through October, due both to El Niño and to an ongoing positive Indian Ocean Dipole. Annually, the heaviest rains occur between November and early December; this year, these rains could extend through January 2016.
Southern Somalia faces a particularly daunting situation. Flooding along the Shabelle and Juba Rivers will likely bring agricultural labor in the area to a halt; people in this region have few assets or livestock to fall back on, and the combination of lowered income and anticipated price spikes could drive large swathes of the population into Emergency (IPC Phase 4, according to FEWS NET) food insecurity in the coming months. Humanitarian workers often have limited access to this region, further complicating the situation.
Southeastern Ethiopia is likely to face flooding and lowered agricultural incomes similar to that seen in Somalia. However, as southern Ethiopia is already facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2)-level food insecurity, many humanitarian agencies are already at work in the area. This means that aid responses should happen relatively quickly and efficiently in this region, leading FEWS NET to predict that the highest level of food insecurity that should be seen here is Crisis (IPC Phase 3).
Flooding will impact Kenya mainly through a cessation of trade. This will result in high staple food prices and a reduction in labor and income. FEWS NET predicts that this region could see food insecurity levels of Crisis (IPC Phase 3).
The report calls for early warning to be given to populations living in flood-prone areas in order to mitigate losses. In addition, governments and aid agencies should prepare ahead, prepositioning relief supplies in areas likely to be affected in order to avoid transportation delays.
(Read more about El Niño’s anticipated global effects.)
By: Sara Gustafson, IFPRI