El Nino may bring famine, UN warns

Droughts and floods triggered by El Nino, a global weather- disrupting phenomenon,threaten a world food crisis, says a report published last week. Millions could face starvation.

The report, by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), which monitors the world's harvest, warns of "serious consequences" for the world's poorest people from the climatic disruption which is expected to peak early next year. Crop yields are expected to be down across the globe, particularly in Southern Africa, Latin America, Indonesia and Australia.

The El Nino disruption - caused by a warm Pacific current - periodically causes chaos in the world's weather, but this one is shaping up to be the worst ever recorded, and its effects are reverberating around the globe. Damage to harvests, which seems inevitable, would come at a time when stockpiles are low. Every year only just enough food is produced. Buffer stocks of grain have for three years been below what the FAO judges "the minimum necessary for world food security".

This year's harvest is again expected to squeak by, leaving nothing to build up stocks. But the FAO warns that "adverse weather", including the effects of El Nino, may yet cut it back.

According to the agency, drought has already cut the Australian wheat crop by a third. The barley harvest is expected to suffer even more, and exports of both crops are likely to fall. Meanwhile, the dry season has started unusually early in central America, and is especially hot, so fewer crops have been planted, and those already in the ground are stunted. The maize harvest is down by 15 per cent in El Salvador, and maize, sorghum and bean crops have been devastated by drought and heat in parts of Honduras. Guatemala, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic have also been hit.

While central America bakes in unaccustomed heat, heavy rains have reduced harvests in Bolivia and Ecuador, and there has been flooding in Venezuela. Some scientists believe that the drought in North Korea, which has caused widespread famine, is linked to El Nino.

But the real worry is what will happen next year, when the disruption - due to peak between December and March - should be at its height. The FAO is warning against "a serious impact on the 1998 harvests".

Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador have declared states of emergency in anticipation of disaster, and the central American coffee crop, which will be at a critical flowering stage when El Nino is likely to be at its worst, is expected to be badly affected. World coffee prices have already soared on the potential threats to supplies.

Southern Africa, where harvests are slightly down this year, is likely to be hit by severe drought: earlier this month South Africa's Agriculture Minister, Derek Hanekom, said that the onset of El Nino could halve his country's corn crop next year, costing more than $213m (pounds 133m) in lost exports. Farmers in the Philippines have been advised to plant fast-growing varieties of rice this autumn in the hope of getting in their harvests before disaster strikes. Australia, South America, Indonesia and Thailand are also expected to be in trouble and there arefears that the American Midwest, the world's grain basket, may be affected.

The FAO warns that "even a small reduction" in harvests would lead to "sharp price rises", plunging the world's poorest countries into crisis, as they are unable to buy enough food.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine