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El Nino Impacts Hunger Warnings in Southern Africa

The World Food Programme has warned that 14 million people in Southern Africa face hunger because of last year’s poor harvests caused by the El Nino weather pattern. This naturally occurring phenomenon, which takes place every two to seven years, was particularly strong in 2015.

The WFP, the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger, made a statement indicating that the number of people without food is likely to rise in 2016 as the drought throughout the region continues.

In a bid to prevent a looming catastrophe, Southern African governments and donors need to respond swiftly through the investment of agriculture to ensure food security, at the same time adopting measures that will boost harvest yields under the ever-changing climate.

According to the WFP statement, little rainfall in 2015 has meant that the worst affected countries include Malawi, with 2.8 million people facing hunger; Madagascar, with 1.9 million people; and Zimbabwe, with 1.5 million people. Not only that, but harvest in Zimbabwe last year was reportedly reduced by half compared to 2014 as a result of massive crop failure.

Additionally, the government of Lesotho declared a drought emergency as one-third of the population (around 650,000 people) faced hunger due to the poor harvest. As a result, food prices across the entire sub-Saharan region have risen drastically. The WFP claims that the price of maize is 73 percent higher in Malawi than the three-year average for this time of year.

South Africa is experiencing its worst drought in years with the maize belt, which happens to produce the world’s largest supply of the staple grain.

Small Farmers Among Worst Hit

Even though food scarcity typically characterizes the entire sub-Saharan Africa, drought-induced famine is becoming a more predominant issue in the Southern Africa sub-region. And while El Nino is due to dispel through the year, its impact will be felt in the affected countries far longer. This precarious situation that demands urgent intervention.

The WFP has expressed concern that small farmers, particularly those in southern Zambia, are the most vulnerable and will become the worst hit. It is these famers that won’t be able to harvest enough food to feed their families throughout the year, let alone sell anything, impacting their abilities to cover their day-to-day necessities and school fees.

Water Issues

The Southern African Development Community (SADC), which is committed to regional integration and poverty eradication within Southern Africa, is the organization behind the framework of ensuring adequate water resources in Southern Africa.

The El Nino weather pattern has compounded the region’s drought, which in turn has reduced food production. Developing countries that border the Indian Ocean that depend on agriculture are among the most affected. Of course, like other climatic occurrences, a proactive framework is needed to reduce the impacts. Those on food production and water issues have been addressed. Even though the countries under the SADC appear to have done this, their efforts have not always achieved the best results.

The desire to boost food production under large commercial farms means that the region’s water systems are under strain. While the Rivers Zambezi, Limpopo and Save are the best managed drainage basins in Africa, too much stress on the water systems by the riparian countries has led to unwanted stress on the waters that have been further impacted by mining, tourism, hydro-power production and industries. While pollution of water could be reversed, the introduction of hydro-power stations on the rivers, reduces the level of water available to those living downstream.

This should, therefore, be a wake-up call on Nigeria and the West African countries that share the Lake Chad and River Niger. While the Lake Chad has almost dried up, the River Niger could be used in a positive way for food production if properly managed.

Light at the End of the Tunnel for Ethiopia?

While El Nino has brought drier conditions to Southern Africa in addition to wetter ones to East Africa, Ethiopia was also hit by its worst drought in 50 years. The United Nations stated that more than 10 million people have been affected, and 400,000 children are suffering from acute malnutrition. According to Save the Children, the drought in Ethiopia represents as big a potential threat to children’s lives as the war in Syria.

There is, however, a small bit of hope for Ethiopia as relief and nutrition assistance makes its way the drought-stricken country. As can be seen from this story by the World Food Programme, peNorwayreCanadaving the help they need close to their homes through the continuous support from key donors such as ECHO.

There are several other donors participating in the “Targeting Supplementary Feeding” program for children under five, pregnant women and nursing mothers: UN CERF, Norway, Canada, Ireland, Japan, Switzerland, the Czech Republic and the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints.

The end of the drought is certainly a long way from ending, however, the impact that donations can have on the region is helping to make a positive difference in people’s lives.

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