5 extreme weather shocks — and how WFP responded

As crises become more frequent, our capacity to anticipate, mitigate and respond is keeping apace

In 2019, for the third consecutive year, Zimbabwe experienced a drought — the worst the country has seen in 40 years. Photo: WFP/Matteo Cosorich

Climate shocks have become one of the leading drivers of hunger worldwide.

The incidence of extreme weather events, including droughts, floods and storms, has doubled since the early 1990s, threatening to push up to 100 million people into severe food insecurity and increase malnutrition in children.

Here is a look at five disasters — and how WFP prepared and responded.

WFP leads the global humanitarian Logistics Cluster, which coordinated relief efforts after cyclone Idai. WFP deployed helicopters and freight aircraft to move food, drinking water, medicines, tents, personnel and other essentials. Photo: WFP/Deborah Nguyen

In March 2019, cyclone Idai left 1.85 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in Mozambique alone. Flooded areas created by torrential rains resembled vast lakes. Roads were destroyed, especially in rural areas where the most vulnerable populations live.

How WFP responded: WFP teams were quick to deploy, helping rescue people who were stranded in isolated areas, supplying them with ready-to-eat, fortified food.

WFP also provided nutrition support and longer-term food and cash assistance, reaching a total of 1.6 million people and working to restore vital telecommunications. When cyclone Kenneth hit Mozambique just over a month after Idai, WFP remained on the ground to assist over 230,000 people.

A farmer in the Dry Corridor shows WFP the effects of the vicious cycle of prolonged droughts followed by heavy rains, on his crops. WFP/Francisco Fion

Five consecutive years of prolonged drought, interspersed with heavy rains, have brought farmers in Central America’s Dry Corridor — which cuts across El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua — to their knees.

Maize and beans, the main staples in the region, are extremely susceptible to adverse weather conditions and 2.2 million people lost their crops in the 2018-19 season. Eight out of ten families have been forced to sell agricultural tools and animals, cut back or skip meals and eat less nutritious foods; 1.4 million people do not have enough to carry them through to the next harvest. Children are most at risk, as they might not get the nutrients they need for their development.

How WFP is responding: As well as providing food and cash assistance for affected families to get through the lean season, WFP is working to build the resilience of communities through the creation and rehabilitation of assets — including community vegetable gardens and water harvesting and irrigation systems. Among other measures is the diversification of livelihoods through new skills, and the provision of training and support for strengthened agricultural production.

“We won’t leave anymore,” says Moisés Rivera, a member of the indigenous Lenca community in Honduras. “We won’t emigrate from this country. We will earn our money here.” Moisés had to emigrate to neighbouring El Salvador to find work in the past, but thanks to WFP support he is now making a living out of traditional pottery production.

In July 2019, torrential rains affected the lives of 2.3 million people across 20 districts in Bangladesh. Photo: WFP/Akash

Home to more than 700 rivers, Bangladesh is increasingly seeing the impact of climate change. In July 2019, torrential rains swept away homes and livelihoods across 20 of Bangladesh’s 64 districts, affecting the lives of 2.3 million people.

How WFP responded: For 4,500 families, the devastating impact of the flooding was mitigated by anticipatory action taken by WFP and the Government of Bangladesh. When a climate hazard is forecast to exceed a specified level of impact, this triggers pre-emptive actions, including cash transfers to vulnerable members of the community, which help reduce the scale and cost of disaster response.

“Even in our sadness, we are happy. The money [from WFP] has helped me a lot,” said villager Saleha Begum. “I bought rice, lentils and some dry foods to eat during the flood,” added Sajeda Khatun. “We have also rented a boat to store some of our assets. I cooked food for my family members by making a portable oven on there.”

Through an innovative risk-management approach known as Forecast-based Financing, families received a transfer of US$53. They could use this to protect homes, buy food and other items to face the floods, and evacuate where necessary. WFP has also provided food assistance to 250,000 people in three districts in the north of the country.

Goats in drought-stricken Ethiopia. The deaths of livestock have caused a breakdown in pastoral livelihoods, contributing to soaring levels of hunger and alarming increases in malnutrition rates, especially among the most vulnerable children. Photo: WFP/Peter Smerdon

Prolonged drought has had severe negative effects on pastoralist families in Somali Region, Ethiopia. Widespread deaths of livestock and increased food insecurity exacerbate the vulnerability of an already poor population, leading to an estimated 1.8 million people being in need of life-saving food assistance.

How WFP is responding: To mitigate the effects of drought, WFP implemented an innovative insurance programme. The Satellite Index Insurance for pastoralists in Ethiopia aims to keep core breeding animals alive during major droughts, using cutting-edge satellite technology to gauge the availability of forage. When availability is too low pastoralists get an insurance payout from WFP to help offset potential losses of livestock and feed.

When it was launched in 2018, 5,000 pastoralists registered for the insurance scheme in Somali Region; that number went up to 7,800 for the 2019 season, and we anticipate even higher numbers in 2020.

Drone footage of Treasure Cay, one of the hardest hit areas by Hurricane Dorian. Photo: WFP/Erin Carey

In 2018, after hurricanes Irma and Maria wreaked havoc in the Caribbean, WFP set up an office in Barbados to support preparedness efforts by national authorities and the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, also based in Barbados. This proved pivotal in preparing for and responding to Dorian.

How WFP responded: When Hurricane Dorian made landfall in the Bahamas in September 2019, it did not catch WFP and local authorities unprepared. In advance of Dorian’s arrival, WFP was able to rapidly deploy technical experts in food security, logistics and emergency telecommunication to support a rapid needs assessment. WFP subsequently airlifted storage units, generators and prefab offices for two logistics hubs being established on the main islands. It also provided satellite equipment to ensure connectivity for emergency responders, as well as ready-to-use fortified emergency food.

WFP’s permanent presence in the Caribbean through its Barbados office helps prepare for and respond to climate-driven disasters in the region.

“We can’t prevent hurricanes, but with a permanent presence in the area we can work to minimize their impact on the affected populations,” said Regis Chapman, Head of WFP’s office in Barbados.

Beyond the traditional provision of assistance to affected communities, WFP is working to restore natural resources and infrastructure to reduce the impacts of climate-related hazards, protect vulnerable populations with climate risk insurance products that ensure farmers will get payouts for the expected crop losses due to the lack of rainfall, and anticipate events through risk analysis, early warning and preemptive action once a hazard is forecast.

World Food Programme Insight

Insight by The World Food Programme

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