Understanding the use of 2015–2016 El Niño forecasts in shaping early humanitarian action in Eastern and Southern Africa

Arielle S. Tozier de la Poterie*, Wasswa Eddie Jjemba, Roop Singh, Erin Coughlan de Perez, Cecilia V. Costella, Julie Arrighi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Humanitarian organizations are increasingly interested in using seasonal forecasts to prepare for and mitigate the impacts of potential disasters before they begin. El Niño teleconnections increase the predictability of flooding and drought events in Southern and Eastern Africa, providing humanitarian stakeholders with advanced warning of potential weather events. This study draws on evidence from key-informant interviews with humanitarian organizations and government officials in five African countries (Zambia, Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Malawi) to better understand how national, regional, and international humanitarian organizations respond to climate and weather warnings. We find that organizations looked to data from past El Niño events to develop contingency plans and gradually implement response activities but that few organizations attempt to monitor and evaluate their activities or use forecasts to help people capture additional benefits. Although they would like greater specificity and higher forecast skill, humanitarians largely trust international forecasts. Access to intermediaries, contextualized data, and flexible funding, and well-established social protection mechanisms facilitate action. Based on these results we recommend that future efforts focus on developing capacities and complementary, localized, information that will help actors translate the forecasts into action. Future research is also needed to understand whether action leads to desired impacts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)81-94
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction
Issue numberPart A
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2018


This work was supported by the UK Department for International Development, which funded the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre to conduct this research through the Science for Humanitarian Emergencies and Resilience (SHEAR) Programme, grant number 201884 . The findings presented in this article synthesize and elaborate upon findings from the larger report, but the views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the UK government's official policies or the official views of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, the National Societies in focus countries, or any other component of the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement. Appendix A

FundersFunder number
UK Department for International Development
Department for International Development, UK Government201884


    • Climate risk management
    • Climate services
    • Early warning
    • El Niño
    • Humanitarian action
    • Seasonal forecasts


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