El Nino causing catastrophic water shortages across the world, affecting children the most says World Vision

Addis Ababa & Johannesburg - Severe water shortages caused by El Nino are putting millions of lives at risk and forcing mass migration as people search for water says international humanitarian aid agency World Vision.

The current El Nino is one of the worst on record causing life-threatening drought conditions globally in Central and South America, Southern and Eastern Africa and the Pacific Islands. In parts of Ethiopia and Somalia, water is in such short supply that villagers are abandoning their homes and migrating in search of water. Children are absent from school as they search for water or move with their families to find it.

World Vision Ethiopia Country Director Sean Kerrigan warned that, “Across Africa alone, at least seven million people are without clean water as a result of El Nino weather.” “The actual number of people suffering from acute water shortages is probably much higher” said Kerrigan, himself a water specialist. “We have heard a lot about the widespread food shortages, but water shortages caused by El Nino are just as catastrophic. A person can survive for much longer without food than they can without water,” he said.

The Ethiopian Government has declared that nearly six million people need clean water and sanitation aid. Humanitarian agency World Vision is now supplying water to almost half a million people as part of the government’s emergency response there.

Ethiopian Beshadu, 11, misses school two days a week to fetch water for her family. “I fetch water from Awash River, 20 km from here,” she told World Vision staff. “We walk for eight hours to fetch two jerry cans of water. It is carried by our donkeys. The water lasts two days.” In her school more than one in four students are absent because they spend most of their day collecting water. Hundreds of schools have closed as pastoralists abandon areas in dry zones.

“If El Nino isn’t causing drought, it is causing floods – either way, the result is unsafe water or no water,” said Kerrigan. “Not only can a lack of water kill, but contaminated water can kill just as quickly. Diarrhea, which is often caused by unclean water and sanitation, can kill small children very quickly. The result is that water shortages hit children harder than anyone else.”

World Vision is responding to the crisis caused by El Nino in at least fifteen countries many of which are feeling acute affects of the water shortage, including:

-        Zimbabwe, where water rationing is in effect in every city and town. 15, 000 boreholes have run dry and another 160 need to be drilled and the Government has asked for USD7.5 million in assistance.

-        Lesotho, where rains have been delayed by more than two months and some rivers have completely dried up. The Ministry of Health reports that a number of elderly people have died from dehydration as they were less able to cart water from water points.

-        South Africa, where 2.7 million households are facing water shortages - even hospitals are running out of water. Seven of the nine provinces have declared disasters and some have water rationing in place.

-        Honduras, World Vision staff report that desperate communities are digging wells in an attempt to find water, children are falling ill with diarrhoea from drinking dirty water and villagers queue in the middle of the night at waterholes due to demand.

-        Papua New Guinea water supplies have been contaminated as people dig wells in order to find water and schools are also closing due to water shortages. An outbreak of typhoid and cholera in one area has killed 30 people.

“We have heard a lot about the widespread food shortages, but water shortages caused by El Nino are just as catastrophic. A person can survive for longer without food than they can without water. El Nino is causing drought or flood and this is hugely increasing the prevalence of diseases – the Zika outbreak is caused, in part, by this,” he said.

“At a time when there is so much need, we are asking donors big and small, not to overlook the smallest children caught up in this crisis,” said Philippe Guiton, advisor to World Vision’s El Nino Response. “Food shortages are acute, of that there is no question, but water shortages are just as critical right now,” he said.


For more information or an interview with Sean Kerrigan or Philippe Guiton, please contact Melany Markham melany_markham@consultant.wvi.org +36 306890412