SADC tackles El Nino head-on

Mpho Tebele
Gaborone. — Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states have agreed to provide preliminary data on the number of people affected by the drought as well as cereal and other food deficits for planning and resource mobilisation to offset the effects of El Nino on agriculture, food and nutrition, and security.

A communiqué from the SADC secretariat says that a recent consultative meeting on preparedness and response to the El Nino effects on agriculture, food and nutrition and security, members states, with the support of co-operating partners, agreed to provide immediate relief to meet the food and non-food needs of more than 28 million vulnerable people who are affected by the current poor season.

The communiqué says that the numbers are likely to increase and scale-up on-going social protection/safety nets and to provide capacity needs for support by international co-operating partners.

Member states and partners also agreed to increase budgetary allocation for disaster prevention, preparedness, mitigation and response.

SADC member states and partners further agreed to maintain accessible, affordable and quality basic social services for the most vulnerable.

They will support male and female small-holder farmers to produce in the next agriculture season and to provide targeted support to the vulnerable people to assist in recovery and building resilience.

The SADC member states and partners agreed to establish a logistics/transport task team to evaluate the available logistics capacity, procurement options, bottlenecks to the free flow of food, and coordinate and facilitate food commodity importation.

They will also ensure swift imports of food and essential non-food items into the region and establish an El Nino specific co-ordination centre at the SADC Secretariat in Gaborone, Botswana, for this crisis.

SADC members will develop regional resilience and monitoring and evaluation frameworks and scale-up appropriate technologies to adapt and mitigate against climate variability and change. The communiqué states that SADC member states and their partners would also scale-up provision of primary health care services, including nutrition, HIV treatment, water and sanitation in line with approved regional strategies.

They will also scale-up implementation and strengthen disaster risk reduction strategies for preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery and implement regional agricultural policies that promote production, productivity, competitiveness and improve access to markets and promote private sector participation.

Speaking at the consultative meeting SADC, deputy executive secretary for regional integration Dr Thembinkosi Mhlongo said southern parts of the region, including South Africa, Lesotho, southern Botswana, Zimbabwe, southern Zambia and Malawi as well as parts of Mozambique and Democratic Republic of Congo had experienced some of the driest conditions in 35 years, causing severe water shortages, delayed crop planting and very low soil moisture that had led to wilting and stunting of crops, and death of livestock in some areas.

“Since the majority of the SADC Region’s population depends on agriculture and related industries for livelihoods, the dry conditions are likely to cause severe food shortages and malnutrition.

The situation on the ground looks worse as it follows another poor season last year which left many families vulnerable. We are already witnessing food shortages as well as the loss of power generation capacities and water shortages,” said Mhlongo.

Estimates by the SADC Early Warning and Vulnerability Assessment systems indicate that up to 28 million citizens in the region, about 10 percent of the total population, are already food insecure as a result of the poor harvest in 2015.

The number of people living on less than a US$1 a day has also increased. In addition, the rates of malnutrition which are already high are becoming worse.

Current estimates indicate that the majority of SADC member states have stunting rates of higher than internationally acceptable 20 percent of the population.

Mhlongo said the region has faced drought emergencies of this magnitude in the past and it was only due to the concerted action by the member states and the secretariat, working jointly with co-operating partners that disasters were averted.

“For example, the 1991-1992 drought emergency led to the launching of a consolidated UN-SADC Drought Emergency in Southern Africa Appeal. This ‘appeal’ provided a platform to raise awareness of the growing crisis in the region and brought about a regional drought response that saw the mobilisation of over 11 million metric tonnes of food into the region,” said Mhlongo.

He said while these efforts showed that working together in partnerships can avert disasters; they also showed that the region needs to put in place long-term measures to reduce vulnerability to these climate-related hazards.

Meanwhile, in the latest food security and weather hazards bulletin, FEWSNET said the 2015-2016 drought was the worst ever recorded in the region in 30 years.

Chief among its findings, FEWSNET warned of significant reductions in crop harvests this year in Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Lesotho, Zambia, Swaziland and Mozambique due to the erratic rainfall.

“Most countries in the region are likely to experience an extended lean season by at least a month due to the effects of late planting experienced across the region. The start of the green harvest, which normally provides alternative sources of food to most poor households, is expected to start around mid-March compared to the usual February. The main harvest will also likely start in April.

“Regional cereal stocks in some surplus countries is limited. Zambia, which was the highest exporting country in the region last year, is left with exportable stocks of approximately 200 000MT.

The further decrease in exportable stocks in the region will likely result in significant price increases during the peak of the lean season in March, especially in Malawi and Zimbabwe, both deficit countries,” FEWSNET said.

The largest precipitation deficits remained concentrated over southern Zambia, central and western Mozambique, southern Malawi and across most of Zimbabwe.

It was also noted that the erratic rainfall patterns had resulted in wilting and damaged maize crops over large portions of South Africa and Botswana.

March 2016
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