‘Little Boy’ Devouring African Food
Agricultural areas in northern Namibia and southern Angola have also experienced high levels of water deficit, FAO said in a joint statement with Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET); the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, and the World Food Programme (WFP).
“Much of the southern African sub-region has consequently experienced significant delays in planting and very poor conditions for early crop development and pasture re-growth. In many areas, planting has not been possible due to 30 to 50 day delays in the onset of seasonal rains resulting in widespread crop failure.”
Although there has been some relief since mid-January in certain areas, the window of opportunity for the successful planting of crops under rain-fed conditions is nearly closed, FAO, WFP and FEWS NET alerted. Even assuming normal rainfall for the remainder of the season, crop-water balance models indicate poor performance of maize over a widespread area.
“Seasonal forecasts from a variety of sources are unanimous in predicting a continuation of below-average rainfall and above-average temperatures across most of the region for the remainder of the growing season.”
The combination of a poor 2014-2015 season, an extremely dry early season (October to December) and forecasts for continuing hot and drier-than-average conditions through mid-2016, suggest a scenario of extensive, regional-scale crop failure.
South Africa has issued a preliminary forecast of maize production for the coming harvest of 7.4 million tonnes, a drop of 25 per cent from the already poor production levels of last season and 36 per cent below the previous five-year average.
These conditions follow a 2014-2015 agricultural season that was similarly characterised by hot, dry conditions and a 23 percent drop in regional cereal production.
This drop has increased the region’s vulnerability due to the depletion of regional cereal stocks and higher-than-average food prices, and has substantially increased food insecurity, FAO and its partners reported.
For its part, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) stated that even before the current crisis began, the number of food-insecure people in the region (not including South Africa), already stood at 14 million.
As of early February, Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) estimated that, of this total, at least 2.5 million people are in crisis and require urgent humanitarian assistance to protect livelihoods and household food consumption.
The numbers of the food insecure population are now increasing due to the current drought and high market prices (maize prices in South Africa and Malawi were at record highs in January).
Consequently, drought emergencies have been declared in most of South Africa’s provinces as well as in Zimbabwe and Lesotho. Water authorities in Botswana, Swaziland, South Africa and Namibia are limiting water usage because of low water levels.
And power outages have been occurring in Zambia and Zimbabwe as water levels at the Kariba Dam have become much lower than usual.
“While it is too early to provide detailed estimates of the population likely to be food-insecure in 2016-2017, it is expected that the population in need of emergency food assistance and livelihood recovery support will increase significantly. Additional assistance will be required to help food-insecure households manage an extended 2016 lean season,” says the joint statement.
Ethiopia’s Worst Drought in 30 Years
This weather phenomenon, aggravated by climate change, has also strongly hit Eastern Africa. This is the case of Ethiopia, which has been battling its worst drought in 30 years due to the El Niño weather pattern, with 8.2 million people already in urgent need of food aid.
The United Nations sent an emergency health team to help support the Government’s response to a crisis that is expected to become even worse over the next eight months.
“The food security emergency is coming against a background of multiple on-going epidemics in the country,” the interim Director of Emergency Risk Management and Humanitarian Response at the UN World Health Organisation(WHO), said Michelle Gayer on 4 December 2015 in Geneva.
“This creates an additional burden for people’s health as well as the health system as malnutrition, especially in children, predisposes them to more severe infectious disease, which can kill quickly,” she added.
Ethiopia has experienced two poor growing seasons in 2015. Due to delayed rains attributed to El Niño, its main annual harvest was severely reduced.
Every month since January has seen an increase in the number of malnourished children, with 400,000 likely to face severe malnutrition in 2016, according to WHO. Moreover, some 700,000 expectant and new mothers are at risk for severe malnutrition.