WHILE Australian farmers wait to see how El Niño might affect food production, a new report from Oxfam has found at least 10 million poor people around the world face hunger due to climate change.
The report, Entering Uncharted Waters: El Niño and the threat to food security finds that millions of the world's poor face hunger this year and next year due to droughts and erratic rains, influenced by climate change and the likely development of a "super El Niño".
Oxfam - a not-for-profit aid and development organisation - says crops have already failed in Southern Africa and Central America, driving up the price of maize in local markets.
Ethiopia and parts of South East Asia are suffering from the effects of drought and are braced for worse in coming months, the report says.
As the Australian government prepares to join other nations in Paris in December to negotiate a global UN climate agreement, Oxfam is warning that the effects of El Niño and climate change could increase humanitarian emergencies at a time when resources and capacity are already under strain.
In Australia, El Niño is usually associated with below-average spring rainfall over eastern Australia, and increased spring and summer temperatures for southern and eastern Australia.
Oxfam says recent research suggests climate change could almost double the frequency of "super El Niños" – to every 13 years instead of every 23 years.
In a statement, Oxfam Australia’s chief executive Dr Helen Szoke said millions of poor people already were feeling the effects of this super El Niño, seeing their crops fail and the price of staple foods soar because of shortages.
“Such extreme weather events are only going to increase as climate change ramps up,” Dr Szoke said.
“2014 was the hottest year on record and this year looks set to exceed it. Governments must wake up to the fact that climate change is already happening and there is an urgent need for a global deal to tackle it.”
Dr Szoke said that Papua New Guinea was already feeling the effects of an El Niño, with droughts and frosts destroying crops, and two million people affected.
Oxfam says it is working with partner organisations to assess conditions in drought-affected areas, identifying people who are most vulnerable.
“We’re getting reports that current food supplies may only last another month in some districts,” Dr Szoke said.
“Schools have reduced their hours to half days, as it gets too hot for the students and there’s not enough water.”
The report outlines how the effects of record high temperatures and the "super El Niño" are already being felt.
It says Papua New Guinea has been hit by torrential rains that caused landslides, then drought and severe heat that withered crops.
Indonesian authorities have declared a drought in the majority of the country’s 34 provinces.
The government of Ethiopia estimates that 4.5 million people will need food relief by the end of the year because of poor rains.
By February 2016, more than two million people in Malawi are expected to be struggling to find enough food.
In Guatemala and Honduras, hundreds of thousands of farmers have suffered the partial or total loss of their crops through drought and changes to the seasons.
Oxfam says the last big El Niño in 1997-98 caused humanitarian disasters in many countries, including major forest fires in Indonesia and severe drought throughout many Pacific Island countries.