SADC's hunger crisis

Namibia among hardest hit

23 October 2019 | Agriculture

A record 45 million people in SADC will face severe food insecurity in the next six months, following persistent droughts, back-to-back cyclones and flooding that have wreaked havoc on harvests in a region that is overly dependent on rain-fed, smallholder agriculture.

According to a report by the World Food Programme (WFP) it intends to support 7.2 million people in eight priority countries that have been hard hit by these natural disasters.

These countries include Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia, Madagascar, Malawi, Eswatini and Lesotho.

The report, titled 'Tackling Southern Africa's Climate-driven Food Crisis', says US$260 million (N$3.8 billion) is being sought to meet urgent food needs in the SADC region.

Only US$139 million (N$2.1 billion) of the required US$399 million (N$5.9 billion) has been secured to date.

“The WFP is intending to step up both emergency assistance and interventions to help vulnerable communities withstand increasingly frequent and intense climate shocks in the priority countries,” says the report. It said that there are 9.2 million people now experiencing “crisis” or “emergency” levels of food insecurity in eight SADC countries identified by WFP for urgent lean season assistance. The number is projected to rise to 13 million early next year, unless timely assistance is provided.

“With partners, we aim to support 7.2 million people in the eight hard-hit countries over the next six months with in-kind food and cash assistance.”

According to the report Namibia suffered its worst drought in a generation during the last growing season.

The country experienced a 53% drop in 2019 cereal production as well as large-scale livestock deaths. The report says more than 40% of its 2.5 million people are now characterised as severely food insecure.

“In close coordination with the government, WFP plans to assist up to 379 000 people, including 101 636 on antiretroviral treatment.”

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe is enduring its worst hunger emergency in a decade because of drought, flooding and an economic crisis. About 5.5 million people in rural areas are expected to be severely food insecure by January next year, up from 3.6 million currently. WFP intends to continue scaling up assistance to reach 2.7 million people.

In Mozambique, two million people will experience crisis and emergency levels of hunger due to the effects of cyclones, flooding and drought. WFP plans to support 1.25 million people at the peak of the lean season in that country.

Zambia, traditionally a breadbasket, is experiencing one of the region's sharpest spikes in food insecurity, which is now affecting 2.3 million people. The country has been obliged to restrict maize exports.

WFP will procure and deliver parcels and move maize to vulnerable districts.

With 25% of families in Madagascar's drought-prone south now suffering crisis and emergency levels of food insecurity, up from 20% in July, WFP intends to support 783 000 people with much-needed food and nutrition assistance through to March.

Eswatini's hunger crisis is also deepening, fuelled by drought, a poor harvest, inflation and rising unemployment. The number of severely food insecure is estimated to have risen to 230 000 from 200 000 in mid-year. WFP plans to support 163 000 people through to March.

While Malawi enjoyed a 25% year-on-year increase in maize production notwithstanding the ravages of Cyclone Idai, WFP is planning to assist, through to March, 415 000 people as a result of drought and cyclone-induced flooding.

Meanwhile, in Lesotho, following two drought-stricken harvests in succession, cereal production dropped by 36% in 2018 and by 70% this year, contributing to an alarming surge in severe hunger. The number of severely food-insecure people is 430 000, one-third of the population. WFP plans to assist 174 000 people.

The report says with temperatures rising at twice the global average and designated a climate “hotspot”, Southern Africa has experienced normal rainfall in just one of the last five growing seasons.

The hunger crisis, afflicting urban as well as rural communities, is being aggravated by rising food prices, large-scale livestock losses and mounting joblessness. It is also deepening acute malnutrition in particularly vulnerable communities.

Going forward, higher temperatures and drier weather are set to continue cutting crop yields, exacerbating structural poverty, inequality and chronic hunger, and rendering instability and conflict more likely.

These country-specific responses will address immediate food needs and also strengthen resilience programmes.

ELLANIE SMIT