African National Societies face opposite impacts from El Niño

African National Societies face opposite impacts from El Niño
30 November 2023

By the Climate Centre

The IFRC and the Kenya Red Cross Society last week launched an emergency appeal for 18 million Swiss francs to support the National Society’s operation that started in the first week of November to address floods likely to have been exacerbated by the current El Niño.

KRCS Secretary General Ahmed Idris said last Friday: “We are dealing with a situation where entire communities have either been submerged or marooned. Roads and other critical infrastructure have been cut off, disrupting the delivery of vital supplies.

“We need to urgently provide food, clean water and medical supplies to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe.”

The International Federation says heavy rains in the region have also affected (alphabetically) Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda, necessitating a major humanitarian response.

The KRCS earlier (11 November) activated its early action protocol for floods “in response to the escalating impacts and risk to people in affected areas,” a news item on the Anticipation Hub said.

Through this activation, it received nearly 200,000 Swiss francs from the DREF anticipatory pillar to implement early actions supporting 150,000 people in flood-affected areas.

Evacuation routes

In Djibouti a few days later, after the country’s met service and the ICPAC agency weekly forecast indicated heavy rainfall also likely to have been intensified by El Niño, the Red Crescent there activated its own simplified protocol for floods, worth nearly 80,000 Swiss francs, that will assist 2,500 people.  

The KRCS flood response includes emergency shelter, psychosocial support, dissemination of early warnings, and food and safe water, supported by an initial DREF allocation of nearly 750,000 Swiss francs; the new appeal will enable expansion of work in shelter, livelihoods, health, water and sanitation, and nutrition.

The Uganda Red Cross Society has also now triggered its early action protocol for floods and will receive nearly 350,000 Swiss francs from the DREF to support more than 11,000 people in the areas predicted to be the worst affected by floods affecting much of the country.

Immediate actions by the URCS as part of the protocol include cleaning water sources and dredging channels (photo) and mapping evacuation routes and centres; cash assistance, emergency shelter kits and water purification tablets will follow.

The Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services in Malawi, meanwhile, has forecast “normal to below-normal total rainfall amounts over most areas” with the possibility of a delayed onset of the agriculturally significantly important rainy season “by at least two weeks in some areas”.

Almost every family in Malawi is a farming family, a source of great strength for the country’s economy. This was seen a few decades ago when the country was regularly exporting agricultural produce to neighbouring nations, the IFRC’s Anne Wanjiru writes from Malawi.

However, this means most families have also been extremely vulnerable to climatic stresses and shocks.

“Year after year, it’s been getting harder to get good yields from farming and get a good earning,” says Martha Makaniko, a farmer from Chiwalo village in Mulanje.

“We no longer rely on regular weather patterns. I used to get eight bags of maize from my field. Now I would be lucky to get two. I have prepared my land awaiting the rains but have no money to buy seeds or fertilizer.”

When Tropical Cyclone Freddy hit Malawi in March, Martha watched as her entire crop was washed away. Like thousands of other farming families, she not only lost her crops.

“My house collapsed,” says Martha, who is also ill and in need of money for medical assistance. “I stayed in the shelter for several months. I spent my entire life savings building a new house. This set me back. We eat nothing, but porridge made from raw mangoes.”


People don’t normally boil fruit for food in Malawi, so Martha’s mango porridge is an indication that a lot of families are running out of choices. According to the government’s vulnerability assessment, more than 4.4 million people are facing hunger.

The economic downturn, as well as the ripple effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine conflict have all exacerbated the hunger situation in Malawi.

In the last 18 months, Malawi’s currency, the kwacha, has been devalued twice. This has caused inflation with everything, including critical supplies such as seeds and fertilizer.

Some farmers find it too expensive to manage their own farms, and decide to do piecework in other people’s fields, a common coping alternative among farming families that is also proving to be very competitive.

Those that cannot find any piece work at all will scavenge for wild yams or raw mangoes to boil and feed their families.

A variety of wild yams is poisonous, however, and the difference can be hard to tell. Fani Mayesu recently lost her husband and 19-year-old son after consuming poisonous wild yams.

“We didn’t know they were poisonous,” she says, with a look of disbelief. “My husband brought them, I prepared them, and we all ate. Immediately we begun getting sick and vomiting. My other five children and I recovered but not my husband and one son.”

The Malawi Red Cross Society (MRCS) in its lean-season response plan, will seek to prioritise highly affected districts. This is aimed at strengthening community capacity to cope with the food insecurity while sustaining other resilience building activities.

“We hope to not only address the immediate acute food security needs but to also respond to climate predictions through interventions such as distributing early maturing seed varieties,“ says Prisca Chisala, Director of Programmes and Development at MRCS.

“We also plan to support winter cropping and encourage crop diversification to adopt drought resistant crops to address the gaps in production.”

Ugandan Red Cross actions as part of its early action protocol for floods include cleaning water sources and dredging channels (photo) and mapping evacuation routes and centres; cash assistance, emergency shelter kits and water purification tablets will follow. (Photo: URCS via social media)