InterAction El Niño Letter To OMB

May 26, 2016

Mr. Shaun Donovan
Office of Management and Budget
725 17th Street NW
Washington, DC 20503

Dear Director Donovan, 

As development and humanitarian organizations working in every region of the world, we are aware of how El Niño has impacted the lives and livelihoods of millions of people. Our response must be two-fold; first, we must quickly put into motion the delivery of food, water, nutrition and health services for those acutely effected, and second, we must be ready to help people become more resilient to this kind of shock by building community capacity to withstand it.  We are, however, also aware that funding for emergencies and other international humanitarian and development priorities has been stretched thin.  That said, we ask that the Administration review all available accounts to ensure funds be made available at the highest levels possible to address these historic and life-threatening disasters. 

The 2015-2016 El Niño is historic and it is impacting the lives of at least 60 million people globally: 52 million in Southern and Eastern Africa; 4.7 million in the South Pacific; 4.2 million in Central America; and millions across Asia. The Southern African Development Community Council of Ministers has declared a regional drought disaster. Eight countries have declared a national state of emergency: El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Lesotho, Malawi, and Republic of the Marshall Islands, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe. The drought and extreme weather conditions have put millions into extreme food insecurity, spread agricultural loss, closed off access to water, and increased transmission of HIV.  There are examples of communities in Southern Africa digging in dry river beds in hopes of finding water, and farmers eating the seeds for next year’s crop out of desperation.  The needs facing El Niño-impacted communities are reaching unparalleled levels and Southern Africa is currently poised to tip into an extreme crisis that has not been seen since the 1980s.  

Response plans with requests for international assistance have been completed in 18 countries and the requests total over $3.6 billion. Of that, the current funding gap stands at over $2.2 billion, and this figure is expected to grow for the provision of food, clean water, basic medicine, and seeds. This gap is threatening to cut short life-saving programs in Ethiopia, Mozambique, Madagascar, Malawi, and other countries.  While long-term development projects intended to increase resilience have proved their worth by helping mitigate suffering in many communities – for instance watershed restoration projects have helped to keep water in streams and wells that would otherwise have been dry for months out of the year – the magnitude and scale of the current crises has far outpaced the number of people who have benefited from such interventions. 

Although the El Niño phenomenon is subsiding, many communities are just entering the normal hunger season which started 3-4 months earlier than usual this year. Stocks are already depleted and many families do not have enough food to tide them over. The worst impacts in many areas are still to come. In addition, climate history suggests that a strong La Niña event will follow the El Niño we are currently experiencing, leading to floods and droughts for different parts of the world in the third or fourth quarter of the year. The longer it takes to better fund our response, the more expensive it will become and the more lives will be lost. The United States must take urgent action now. 

In FY2016, Congress invested in humanitarian response, including funding the International Disaster Assistance account at almost $2.8 billion and the Food for Peace program at $1.716 billion. This generous funding has been put to good use, underwriting what are extensive El Niño response efforts in countries like Ethiopia.  Such high funding for humanitarian accounts also recognized the multiple competing priorities facing the international community in funding our response to ongoing conflicts in Syria, Iraq, South Sudan and elsewhere, and other unpredictable natural or manmade disasters, such as the Ecuador earthquake. 

Congress recognized the high level of humanitarian needs in FY2016, and we hope the Administration responds to Congressional intent by ensuring the highest level possible of all available funding be used to address these unfolding crises. Thank you for your consideration of this request. 


1.    ADRA International
2.    Action Against Hunger
3.    Alliance to End Hunger
4.    American Red Cross
5.    Bread for the World
6.    CARE
7.    Catholic Relief Services
8.    ChildFund International
9.    Congressional Hunger Center
10.    Feed the Children
11.    Global Health Council
12.    Handicap International
13.    InterAction
14.    International Rescue Committee
15.    Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office
16.    Mercy Corps
17.    Oxfam
18.    Project C.U.R.E.
19.    Project Concern International (PCI)
20.    Refugees International
21.    Relief International
22.    Save the Children
23.    World Concern
24.    World Food Programme – USA
25.    World Vision