El Niño 2015-2016, CERF saved lives: Emergency livelihoods and food support for people affected by drought and flooding

Wilted crops in Neno district, Malawi during the 2015-2016 El Niño induced drought. Credit: OCHA.

In 2015-2016, the El Niño event was one of the strongest since 1950, affecting over 60 million people. Its effects – drought, floods, harsh winters and poor food security – lasted for two years. The Central Emergency Response Fund was at the forefront of early humanitarian action. CERF allocated nearly US$120 million to 19 countries for life-saving response to drought, floods, cyclones, severe cold, and other El Niño-related disasters.

Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe | 2015-2016 | CERF

Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe. In 2015 and 2016, an intense drought affected southern Africa, including large swathes of Zimbabwe. Chipinge district, in the eastern highlands, was affected by the worst drought in 35 years. Thousands of cattle died for lack of pasture and water. Skeletons became a common sight. Desperate to make money for his family, Walter Mehlaba sold most of his sick animals for a low price.

The drought that affected him and millions across southern Africa was due to the El Niño, a naturally occurring phenomenon where the sea surface temperature in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific rises, disrupting normal patterns of precipitation and triggering extreme climate events around the globe. East and southern Africa, central America, southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands experienced extreme weather events, including below-normal rains, droughts, flooding, and severe winters.

People like Walter faced threats to their access to food, their health, and their livelihoods. With a global call to action to avoid an even bigger crisis, the focus was on meeting people’s immediate humanitarian needs and supporting resilience, including building capacities to weather future shocks. CERF’s allocations across the globe helped save lives and livelihoods from the worst effects.

In Zimbabwe, Walter Mhlaba received assistance from FAO, supported by CERF, to access subsidized animal feed and drought-tolerant grains for his remaining animals, and he was able to establish a ‘drought mitigation revolving fund’ in the most vulnerable district. The communities used this money to buy more stock feed and rehabilitate water points serving humans and livestock.

In Malawi and Mozambique, extreme rains and floods displaced over 300,000 people. Many people lost everything, including their homes. With CERF support, UN agencies were able to provide emergency life-saving help including food and cash-based assistance. For many, humanitarian aid was the only source of food and nutrition during the initial days of the crisis. Esnart Thomu and her family were among those affected. “I now sleep on a full stomach and wake with the assurance that there is still food to keep me going. This food gives me hope,” she said.

CERF funds helped provide emergency shelters, tools, clean water, and seeds, so that families could look after themselves and their farms – and plan for the next harvest.

Adapted from stories the CERF Results Report 2016.

Allocation summaries: Malawi (drought and flood) , Mozambique, Zimbabwe.