Conflicts, floods and failed rains caused by El Nino have sparked a sharp rise in the number of people going hungry in parts of east Africa, especially in drought-hit Ethiopia where about 8.2 million people are in need of emergency food aid, the UN has warned.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on Thursday that due to El Nino, a global weather pattern that is expected to last until early 2016, “food insecurity is forecast to worsen over the coming months, especially in Ethiopia”.
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In many parts of Ethiopia, hundreds of thousands of farmers have fallen victim to the hot winds originating in the Pacific, causing the worst drought to hit the country and the region in decades.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Omar Mohammed, whose sorghum harvest has been ruined, said: “Every plant is dead. We have nothing now.”
The farmer said that the well in his village dried up a few days ago because many people from surrounding areas had no choice but to use it.
Struggling to feed his family, he had to sell one of his three cows to buy enough food to give one meal a day to his children.
“We have nothing to eat now. We need food, water,” Mohammed said, adding that he has received no help from aid agencies or the Ethiopian government.
Cattle herder Mohammed Fanni said 40 of his cows have died. He now has only five left.
“The cattle die first,” he told Al Jazeera. “Now as the drought is getting worse goats and camels are beginning to die too.”
The UN said about 8.2m people need emergency food aid in Ethiopia, nearly double the number compared to six months ago.
That figure could rise up to 15 million next year unless the international community stepped up with donations.
Approximately $100m have been given by international donors since October, but the UN said they could need at least five times that much in the next few months.
The Ethiopian government said its emergency food programme is helping but it admitted it needs urgent assistance.
Aid agencies told Al Jazeera that malnutrition cases in the area were rising, but praised the government for what they said was its crisis management and fast reallocation of budget money.
A spokesman for the ministry of agriculture in the capital Addis Ababa told Al Jazeera this is a very different situation to the 1980s, when a drought compounded by political unrest developed into a famine and killed more than a million people.
“The government is trying hard to save the lives of its citizens and successfully reallocating money from its budget,” Alemayehu Berhanu said.
“During the previous drought we lost a lot of lives and animals. Now, because of government action and progress, we, as a country, are more resilient.”
Floods and conflicts
While some countries – including Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea and Djibouti – could see drier conditions, other nations, such as Kenya, Somalia and Uganda are at risk of floods.
More than 90,000 people in war-torn southern Somalia have already been hit by weeks of severe flooding, almost half of them forced from their homes, the UN said.
In South Sudan, where a nearly two-year long civil war rumbles on, about 40,000 people are already starving, with tens of thousands more on the brink of famine, the UN has said.
El Nino is triggered by a warming in sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. It can cause unusually heavy rains in some parts of the world and drought elsewhere.