Millions Face Hunger Due to Record El Niño: Oxfam

Millions of the world's poorest people in Southern Africa, Asia and Central America will face hunger this year and next, according to the international aid charity Oxfam.

This year's El Niño—a powerful climatic event that brings extreme weather to various countries across the world—is set to be one of the strongest on record.

The combination of El Niño, and a series of previous droughts and erratic rains, is likely to have a serious impact on crops in the affected regions. Already in Ethiopia, 4.5 million are in need of food aid due to the ongoing lack of rainfall this year.

In Malawi, floods followed by drought have cut the country's maize production by more than 25 percent. Oxfam estimates that by February next year, "between two and three million people may face a food security crisis," in the country. In Zimbabwe, the maize harvest was similarly hit by drought, and has fallen by 35 percent, meaning that 1.5 million could be in need of food aid by early 2016, and farmers in Central America have seen severe harvest losses following a two year drought. In Asia, where El Niño has already reduced the Indian monsoon, it looks likely that a prolonged drought will affect the rest of the continent.

Over the next few months the charity warns that El Niño will reach its maximum strength. The climatic event, which occurs every two to seven years, is caused by shifting wind patterns that cause temperatures to rise in the Pacific by as much as 7 degrees Fahrenheit.

As the waters of the Pacific warm, parts of South America are hit by heavy rainfall while Australia, Southeast Asia and Southern Africa experience little rain, according to The Guardian. Climate change is believed to worsen the effects of El Niño—rising global temperatures means that even small increases in heat prompted by the phenomenon can have much more extreme consequences.

The name of the phenomenon, which refers to the Christ child, was given by Spanish fishermen who chose it because El Niño is often felt most strongly around Christmas time.

The U.K. Met Office has already warned that this year's El Niño could be one of the strongest since records began in 1960. According to scientists quoted by Oxfam, this year's event will be on a par, or exceed the El Niño of 1997-1998—the strongest in recent years. Oxfam says the El Niño of that period caused, "record global temperatures and droughts, floods and massive forest fires." An estimated 2,000 people died and $33 billion was sustained in property damage.