J. MSUYA: Climate shocks expected to intensify from El Niño effect

Friday November 17 2023

The UN Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Joyce Msuya speaking during an interview. PHOTO | COURTESY


UN Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Joyce Msuya spoke to Pauline Kairu on the Eastern and Southern Africa region’s’ humanitarian needs due to a slew of climate crises.


What is the humanitarian situation in Eastern and Southern Africa?

From Mozambique, which was hit by a cyclone recently, to Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, all are dealing with conflicts and tensions and now, with El Niño, multiple countries in the regions face various challenges. Somalia, for instance, suffered from a severe drought last year, resulting in an estimated 43,000 deaths – half of whom may have been children aged under five years.

The situation remains dire in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, where a staggering 43 million people are in urgent need of assistance this year.

The demand for aid in Somalia and Ethiopia remains persistently high.


Read: War-prone nations hit hardest by climate change

Then there is Tanzania, where the discussion was around refugees streaming in from DRC and Burundi.

From Maputo travelling up north to Cabo Delgado, one cannot help but notice the desolate landscapes and the movement of populations with their livestock towards what was once the epicentre of conflict. Scarcity of food in their areas has compelled them to seek sustenance here.

Astonishingly, even the host communities, who returned last year, faced scarcity, display remarkable acceptance, hospitality and a willingness to share what little they have.

Fortunately, the Mozambican government’s proactive approach, including early-warning systems, community education on cyclone preparedness, and effective management protocols, has helped minimise the damage inflicted on communities and infrastructure.

Similarly, the Horn of Africa has been plagued by devastating droughts, resulting from five consecutive failed rainy seasons. The repercussions have been particularly harsh in Somalia.

Read: Somalia floods kill 50 people, displace about 500,000

Although the worst famine was averted, this did not fully address the ongoing emergency situation, as the presence of insurgents and non-state armed groups have continued to hinder humanitarian organisations from reaching and providing essential aid to those in need.

What proportion of these needs can be attributed to the climate crisis?

According to recent analysis, the 2020-2023 drought in the Horn of Africa would not have happened without human-induced climate change, which has also made agricultural drought in the region about 100 times more likely.

Climate shocks are only expected to intensify due to El Niño, leading to droughts, floods and extreme heat that could tip even more people into humanitarian need.

El Niño puts Kenya at higher risk of flooding that could unleash mudslides and landslides, crop and livestock losses, displacement and disease outbreaks.

For Mozambique, El Niño compounds the risks. The combined impact of cyclones, conflict and climate change has plunged more than 2 million people into humanitarian need. Some 1.8 million people could be impacted by cyclones, flooding and droughts during the coming season.

Read: Storm to hit Mozambique again

The drought in the Horn displaced more than 2.7 million people across Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia, and upwards of 13 million livestock perished.

In Somalia, after a long drought, some 1.6 million people and 1.5 million hectares of farmland are now at risk of flooding amid El Niño. But we have just released $25 million to help people cope with the impact.

What key priorities have you identified? Which areas should countries focus on and what are the immediate opportunities for addressing these?

Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia bear the brunt of global climate crisis, yet they each contribute less than 0.1 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

It is apparent that the victims of climate change are, unfortunately, in low and middle-income countries burdened with high debt. These countries also have relatively weaker economic foundations compared with other nations.

The occurrence of natural disasters, such as irregular rainfall, droughts, and floods, worsens the existing poverty levels. Agriculture, which is a significant source of income for 60 percent of these countries, is particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of these disasters. Consequently, families lacking sufficient resources to respond effectively to such situations face significant challenges.

Read: Paradox of feeding Africa’s starving millions

Beyond funding, how can countries address these recurring crises?

When it comes to early warning and anticipatory approaches around natural disasters Mozambique stands out largely because of its experience.

Mozambique, due to its geographical location, is susceptible to cyclones on an annual basis. In fact, there are projected to be two cyclones in the coming year. However, Mozambique has taken commendable measures in terms of early warning systems.

They have implemented the use of drones to monitor weather changes, specifically focusing on cyclones, enabling them to prepare accordingly. The national disaster centre, in collaboration with the government of Korea, utilises advanced technology to detect and warn about the cyclones and droughts in advance.

Additionally, Mozambique employs social media and drones to effectively communicate with rural communities.

The president of Mozambique holds quarterly meetings with his cabinet, strategically locating ministers to disaster-prone areas to collaborate with communities and build resilience.

Maputo, which is located in a valley, experiences flooding triggered by the overflow of rainwater from neighbouring Eswatini and South Africa.

Read: Freddy kills 109 in southern Africa

Owing to Mozambique’s historical experiences and geographical location, the country has adapted well to dealing with cyclones. They have established comprehensive programmes at both the central and local government levels to effectively manage cyclones, a feat not commonly observed in other countries.

Remarkably, Mozambique allocates its own domestic resources for contingency planning, a practice not commonly seen elsewhere. The efforts undertaken by Mozambique in mitigating cyclone impacts are impressive and offer valuable opportunities for knowledge exchange among peers within the region.

How is traditional knowledge utilised to reduce the risks of disaster?

Awareness of communities and the impact of climate change is growing, and there is a lot that governments, humanitarian workers, and development partners are doing. It is good to see the traditional ways of farming coming back and paying huge dividends.

On this year’s COP, what would be the crucial measures for the international community in effectively responding to and combating climate change?

I say the Loss and Damage Fund. Whether it will be approved, endorsed, and at least pledged is would be a huge plus, especially for Africa. I understand that’s the common voice African countries are bringing to COP28.

Most African countries actually have their national adaptation plans in order, but in moving from the planning phase to implementation lies the problem. Yes, they have good plans, but the question is, are they being implemented? Are there resources to support the implementation?

Read: EA faces up to burden, loss of weather disasters

That is why the Loss and Damage Fund will take centre-stage.

A critical look at humanitarian response plans exposes underfunding as being a huge problem since most of our response plans are funded up to 30 percent and below. Further, we have seen aid to Somalia and Ethiopia diverted to serve other causes, which has made some of the biggest donors pause to reflect on this [misallocation].

Nonetheless, the leadership efforts that governments are taking in early warning and preparedness is encouraging. Some countries are involving development and humanitarian partners, as well as local government authorities to coordinate efforts and resources in preparation for El Niño. A good example is Kenya, where these efforts are being coordinated by the Deputy President.