Droughts linked to El Niño and civil conflict have pushed the number of countries currently in need of external food assistance up to 37 from 34 in March, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in June 2016.
Papua New Guinea, Haiti and Nigeria have been added to the list of countries requiring outside help to feed their own populations or communities of refugees they are hosting.
El Niño has significantly worsened food security
In Haiti, output of cereals and starchy roots in 2015 dropped to its lowest level in 12 years. Around 3.6 million people, more than one-third of the population, are food insecure. This is largely due to El Niño, which has also exacerbated the worst drought in decades in Central America's dry corridor.
In Southern Africa, El Niño impacts have significantly worsened food security and the 2016 cereal harvest currently underway is expected to drop by 26 percent from the already reduced level of the previous year, triggering a "substantial rise" in maize prices and import requirements in the coming marketing year.
Prolonged drought in Papua New Guinea last year has been followed by heavy rains and localised flooding in early 2016, affecting around 2.7 million people. Staple food output in the country's Highland region is expected to suffer a severe shortfall, while the harvest in neighbouring Timor-Leste is expected to be reduced for the second year in a row.
While El Niño is now over, the World Meteorological Organization forecasts a 65 percent chance it will be followed by a La Niña episode, which typically triggers the opposite precipitation patterns --potentially a boon for parched land but also posing the risk of flooding.
Conflicts are threatening food security in many countries
Civil conflicts and their displacement of populations have worsened the food security situation in 12 of the 28 countries on the watch list.
About 13.5 million people in Syria are in need of humanitarian assistance, with caseloads increasing. This year’s harvest is forecast to drop by around 9 percent, due to irregular rainfall in parts of the country, combined with a lack of agricultural inputs and damage to farm infrastructure, according to FAO.
Nigeria, home to Africa's largest economy and population, is on the list of countries needing external help due to the large-scale internal displacement of people stemming from the ongoing conflict in northern districts, which also led to an increased number of refugees and food insecurity in neighbouring Cameroun, Chad and Niger. About 3.4 million people are estimated to be in need of food assistance.
The 37 countries currently in need of external food assistance are:
Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Haiti, Iraq, Kenya , Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Syria, Uganda, Yemen and Zimbabwe.