Policy Brief | El Niño and its Human Toll

Photo by Nancy McNally/CRS

You are here


El Niño is a regularly occurring complex weather phenomenon that causes increased rainfall in some areas and drought in others. This year’s record-breaking El Niño, 2015–2016, is having dire human consequences: Some 60 million people have been impacted in the most-affected regions—Africa, Latin America and Asia—and 17 million people will face acute food crises in the countries most affected.1

Urgent Action

While Catholic Relief Services and its partners assess, prepare for and respond to the impacts of El Niño, we call on the U.S. government to take these urgent steps:

  1. Bolster and immediately issue funding for countries where El Niño has the biggest impact.
  2. Use appropriate assistance mechanisms, such as the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust, and provide flexibility to optimize our response through market-based assistance, where feasible.
  3. Address the health impacts of El Niño, including acute malnutrition, through feeding centers for children and nursing mothers.
  4. Employ regional cooperation to address the cross-border impact of El Niño.
  5. Build resilience and reduce disaster risks by strengthening early warning systems for early action.

Long-Term Action

In addition, we urge the U.S. government to take the following steps over the long-term to reduce the likelihood of, and prepare for, future extreme weather events:

  1. Prepare to address the lasting impacts of El Niño through at least the end of 2016. Many of those impacted have experienced prior seasons of drought or other shocks, leaving them without a cushion to bounce back. Should a La Niña event follow El Niño, they will face further devastation that may be irreversible.
  2. Address the underlying problem of climate change—which appears to have intensified the impacts of El Niño—through climate-smart agriculture, adaptation and mitigation strategies.
  3. Make humanitarian and development funding longer term, integrated and flexible, to build resilience among the most vulnerable people.


1 “El Niño Fact Sheet- U.S. Agency for International Development.” Accessed February 18, 2016.