Weather, war threaten to leave millions more hungry in 2016

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Millions more people globally are facing the threat of severe food and water shortages in early 2016 as droughts and flood devastate crops and strain a humanitarian system already struggling to meet needs, aid agencies warned.

The weather disturbances caused by this year’s El Niño, described by the United Nations as the worst in nearly two decades, come as conflict and persecution drive the number of people forced to flee their homes to a record of more than 60 million.

Agencies including Oxfam, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and Care International said the double hit of extreme weather and war had increased the need for assistance and funding and it was critical to get help to vulnerable communities to stop the situation from getting worse.

In Ethiopia, the government estimates 10.2 million people in a population of 94 million will need humanitarian aid in 2016 due to drought exacerbated by El Niño, while Papua New Guinea’s government estimates three in seven people are drought-affected.

“Millions of people in places like Ethiopia, Haiti and Papua New Guinea are already feeling the effects of drought and crop failure,” Jane Cocking, Oxfam GB’s Humanitarian Director, said in a statement.

“Aid agencies are already stretched responding to the crises in Syria, South Sudan and Yemen. We cannot afford to allow other large-scale emergencies to develop elsewhere. If the world waits to respond to emerging crises in southern Africa and Latin America, we will not be able to cope.”

The WFP estimated that in 2015 about 795 million people were going hungry, 98 percent in developing countries.

The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)said it warned in March that the current El Niño would be strong and it now appeared to be the strongest episode in 18 years that would peak at the start of 2016 – before the usual harvest time for farmers in southern Africa.