The ongoing strong El Niño event, which is forecast to reach peak intensity in late 2023 and then dissipate by mid-2024, will have both negative and positive effects on acute food insecurity across the globe. FEWS NET anticipates a total1 of 105-110 million people will need food assistance through at least early 2024, comprising a net increase in needs in Southern Africa and the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) regions and a net decline in needs in East Africa. El Niño typically brings below-average rainfall to Southern Africa, western East Africa, and LAC, on the one hand, and above-average rainfall to eastern East Africa and Afghanistan, on the other hand. The impacts of poor rainfall and above-average temperatures on agricultural production, food prices, and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) are of greatest concern in drought-prone areas of Southern Africa and LAC, as well as areas recovering from conflict in northern Ethiopia. Meanwhile, the impacts of heavy rain and floods on agricultural production, road and market infrastructure, and WASH are of greatest concern in riverine and low-lying areas in the eastern Horn of Africa; however, above-average rainfall is broadly expected to facilitate the gradual recovery from three-year droughts in the rest of the Horn and Afghanistan. Donor governments and humanitarian agencies should prepare for high assistance needs in multiple regions, especially during the 2024 lean seasons.

The strength of El Niño has steadily increased since it emerged in May, becoming a strong event in late September. According to the NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center and UC Santa Barbara’s Climate Hazards Center, the strength of this El Niño is expected to be comparable to the top six strongest events on the historical record, but relatively less severe than the two strongest events of 1997/98, which brought historic drought and floods to East Africa, and 2015/16, which brought historic drought to Southern Africa. The magnitude of El Niño’s effects on precipitation varies notably from one El Niño event to another depending on the specific anomalies in sea surface temperature and atmospheric behavior, including its interaction with other climate phenomenon such as the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD). Of particular concern this year is the anticipated very positive state of the IOD in late 2023, as this tends to amplify El Niño’s effects on weather in the eastern Horn of Africa, as was seen in 1997.

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