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United Nations El Niño Conference in Rome

United Nations El Niño Conference in Rome

By Aseffa Abreha  04-04-16

A One-day Conference on El Nino Impacts and Priorities for Action was held at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Headquarters, Rome, Italy, on 17 March 2016.  The main organisers were the United Nations Agencies - FAO, World Food Programme (WFP), International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD), and Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

The Objectives of the Event were described as follows:

1.     Promote a shared understanding of the impact of the El Nino on Food Security and Agriculture and other sectors

2.     Review current and planned responses and identify gaps and priorities for action

3.     Agree on key actions which enable early response to and mitigation of future risks.

Apart from the main organisers, others such as World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), WHO, UNICEF, Oxfam UK, Save the Children, European Union, representatives of member countries, resource collaborates, etc.,  participated in the meeting. The Director-General of FAO, Mr. Jose’ da Silva opened the Conference.  The keynote speaker was Mr. Michel Jarraud, former Director General of the World Meteorological Organisation.

The most affected regions, as presented in the conference, include Asia and the Pacific; Latin America and the Caribbean; Africa, especially East Africa and Southern Africa.  Currently, the crisis is already affecting 60 million people and these figures may continue to rise.  Analysis presented at the conference projected that food insecurity in the most affected regions would reach its peak in December 2016.

Reports at the conference further indicated that, according to SADC estimate as at March 1, 2016, El Niño affected 28 million people in Southern Africa, which include Southern Angola, Lesotho, Southern Malawi, Swaziland and northeastern Zimbabwe.  It affected 15 million people in the Horn of Africa of whom over 10 million are in Ethiopia.  Most affected countries in the Horn include Ethiopia, followed by Somalia and Sudan.  The drought in Ethiopia is reported to be the worst in 50 years.

Main issues discussed

The key issues discussed during the conference include the following:

1.     El Nino’s effect

Although it is presumed to be subsiding, El Niño’s effect on people’s lives is increasing.  It was underlined in the meeting that, while cognizant of the unprecedented number of simultaneous emergencies in various parts of the glob, it was of great importance that the 60 million people affected were not neglected.  It was emphasized further that letting the emergency to continue without deserving attention could undermine important development gains achieved in the past.  The organisers and their supporters, therefore, committed to step up their advocacy efforts.

2.     Funding levels are far below what is needed in all regions and sectors for an effective response

The conference noted that in all regions and sectors affected by El Niño, funding levels were far below what was needed for an effective response.  At present, the overall funding gap for El Niño stands at USD 1.5 billion.

The overall funding gap in the most affected countries in Southern Africa is in excess of USD 472 million.  In the Horn of Africa, the overall gap is USD 797 million.  The funding gap in Ethiopia alone is reported at USD 656 million.

3.     Switch from crisis management to risk management

It was noted that information and alerts from El Niño affected countries have been slow coming; and that there ought to be a better link between early warning and action - especially early action to mitigate disaster impacts.  Institutional preparedness and early action significantly reduces response cost in terms of lives and livelihoods. 


4.     Approach to El Niño needs to be multi-sectoral and well-coordinated

The conference underlined the need for leadership, coordination and multi-sectoral and appropriately sequenced approach to the El Niño crisis to be strengthened at all levels, including the private sector.  Speakers after speakers applauded the people and government of Ethiopia for the proper handling and able leadership shown in dealing with the El Niño caused drought in Ethiopia.

There was a general recognition at the conference that responding to El Niño was as much a development effort, as it was humanitarian, and called for a need to link short-term interventions with medium and longer-term interventions.  The conference emphasized that this be reflected in the approach of all stakeholders contributing to solutions for the El Niño-induced crisis, and include the need for more flexible funding, in order for implementing organisations can switch from development to emergency interventions and vice versa, as conditions demand.  The need for investments in long-term resilience building such as the Ethiopian Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP), climate smart livelihoods options, natural resource and water management was emphasized.

5.     Commitments

The four co-organising agencies committed to do the following.

i/  work with resource partners to help address the funding gap by clarifying priority geographical areas that require urgent attention and ensuring there are viable inter-agency response plans that can be funded immediately;

ii/  organize a follow-up meeting as soon as feasible to engage resource partners to make concrete contributions to fill the most pressing gaps, and advance preparedness for a possible La Nina event in the latter half of this year (2016);

iii/  Work with development partners to reduce humanitarian need by targeting the same people with mix of short-, medium- and longer-term efforts, including social protection initiatives such as safety nets, which are appropriately sequenced and layered;

iv/  engage more systematically with the private sector at the local level in affected countries and integrate businesses on the ground in ongoing response effort; 

v/  anticipate and respond early to future events.

Commissioner Mitiku Kassa of Ethiopia’s Disaster Risk Management and Food Security Commission was scheduled to participate, but was not able to do so due to circumstances beyond his control. We, from the Ethiopian Permanent Representation Office to the Rome-based three UN Food and Agriculture Agencies represented Ethiopia and apologized on his behalf to the Conference.

The Ethiopian Delegation, on behalf of the people and government of Ethiopia, expressed appreciation to the main organisers, FAO, WFP, IFAD, OCHA and the other partners for oranising this very important One-Day EL Niño Event.  It further commended the platform where all the relevant stakeholders were present because the impact of the 2015-2016 El Niño phenomenon had to be addressed collectively as no government or agency could deal with it on its own.

The conference was briefed that one of the worst El Niño events in its history hit Ethiopia.  The scale and severity of humanitarian needs has significantly increased due to combined effects of failed spring and poor performance of the summer rains.  The number of emergency beneficiaries reached currently 10.2 million people. 

Ethiopia is one of those countries that has made progress, which assisted to mitigate the impact of the El Niño induced drought.  In fact, had it not been for the focus the Government gave to institutional and community level resilience building, consequences of the current drought could have been even much more devastating.  Attention of the conference was drawn to the fact that, in addition to the El Niño phenomenon, Ethiopia was hosting about 800 thousand refugees from neighboring countries.  However, the humanitarian response has faced serious constraints due to competing global crisis around the world, which made Ethiopia the least priority country for humanitarian support.

 The requirement to assist the 10.2 million people in 2016 was estimated by the 2016 Humanitarian Requirements Document, a joint Government and partners’ document at USD 1.4 billion, of which USD 1.2 billion is for food item.  Since the appeal made in December 2015, about 50% has been secured, and the people and Government of Ethiopia are grateful for this generous contribution.  The Delegation concluded by expressing gratitude on behalf of the people and government of Ethiopia to the international community and appealed for support that is more urgent. 



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