Drought and hunger stalk southern Africa

Saturday January 25 2020

Maize plants are seen in a farm in Lujan

Zimbabwe. The country is facing a severe drought and more than half the population needs food aid. PHOTO | REUTERS 

KITSEPILE NYATHI
By KITSEPILE NYATHI
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Consecutive years of drought, flooding and economic decay have left a record 45 million people in southern Africa facing severe food shortages, aid agencies have said.

Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe are already facing below average rainfall, while Malawi is yet to recover from a fall armyworm invasion that started in 2017.

Zimbabwe, once one of Africa’s leading agriculture producers, is said to be the hardest hit by a drought now stretching into the second year.

The country, which has suffered nearly two decades of economic turmoil, was hit hard by massive flooding caused by Cyclone Idai last March, along with neighbouring Mozambique.

Aid agencies now say the region is ill prepared to cope with the hunger crisis, especially in countries already weakened by economic problems such as Zimbabwe.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said the hunger crisis was on a scale “we’ve not seen before and the evidence shows it’s going to get worse”.

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According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (Fewsnet), international forecasting models projected below average rainfall in southern Africa, including in Zambia and South Africa.

“The start of the 2019/20 rainy season has been erratic, with early season deficits and international forecasts all indicating January to March 2020 rainfall to below average,” Fewsnet said in its latest alert.

“Recent heavy rainfall over areas of South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Angola lessened but did not eliminate early season deficits.”

Fewsnet added that poor harvests in some of the countries will push prices of grain even higher this year.

“Below average rainfall is anticipated in Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, and average to below average production is likely in South Africa and Mozambique,” added the US-funded network that provides early warning and analysis on food insecurity.

“Since Zambia and South Africa produce more than 70 per cent of regional maize grain, supply for the 2020/21 marketing year is expected to be below 2019/20 and above the five year average.”

WFP attributed the crisis to climate change.

“The severity of the situation is largely a consequence of the cumulative effects of climate-related natural disasters in the form of recurrent widespread droughts. The region has only had one normal rainy season in the past five years amid cyclones and persistent flooding.

“For hard-hit families in a region heavily dependent on rain-fed smallholder farming, this means limited food stocks, fewer meals, more children out of school, the distress sale of livestock and other assets, and other negative coping strategies.”

The agency said the hunger crisis was spreading to urban communities due to “rising food prices and mounting joblessness, posing a risk of political instability”.

In Zimbabwe, aid agencies say at least eight million people—more than half the population—need urgent food assistance this year. At least 2.2 million of them live in urban areas.

The EU recently announced that Zimbabwe will receive about 75 per cent of the $24.5 million that the bloc had budgeted for food relief in the region, because Harare was the hardest hit by famine.

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