Southern Africa Grabs El Nino by Its Horns

Gaborone/Windhoek – An El Niño specific coordination centre is to be established at the SADC Secretariat in Gaborone, Botswana to deal with the impact of this ongoing weather phenomenon, as part of the short-term measures agreed to by the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Southern Africa member states would also be providing preliminary data on the number of people affected, and data on cereal and other food deficits, to formulate for better planning and mobilisation of resources.

OMUTHIIYA, 31 December 2015 – Due to the ongoing drought and the absence of grass to graze, livestock like cattle and goats in the surroundings of towns and villages grab anything they can eat from people, such as this goat that grabbed a carton of Omaere – a traditional dairy beverage – from a child. (Photo by: Joseph Nekaya) NAMPA

Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states agreed to the measures during a two-day consultative meeting on their preparedness and response to the impact of the 2015/2016 El Niño on agriculture, and food and nutrition security in southern Africa. The meeting took place on 25 and 26 February 2016 in Johannesburg, South Africa with support from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).

Agriculture remains Africa’s largest source of employment and livelihood. More than 70 percent of the southern Africa’s population depends on rain-fed agriculture for their livelihoods and as a means of survival and income.

For this year though, 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 have experienced some of the driest conditions in 35 years, causing severe water shortages, delayed crop planting and very low soil moisture that have led to wilting and stunting of crops, and death of livestock in some areas.

It is reportedly one of the worst in Namibia’s history, with the country’s capital city having declared a severe water shortage in December 2015 and government rolling out food-aid countrywide.

The last state of emergency on drought in Namibia was declared by former President Hifikepunye Pohamba in 2013.

Hence, SADC member states are being asked to scale-up on-going social protection and safety nets and to provide capacity needs for support by international cooperating partners.

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“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,” SADC Deputy Executive Secretary for Regional Integration Dr Thembinkosi Mhlongo told the consultative meeting.

Estimates by the SADC Early Warning and Vulnerability Assessment systems indicate that up to 28 million citizens of the Region, about 10% 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 our Member States have stunting rates of higher than internationally acceptable 20% of the population.

The meeting agreed to increase budgetary allocation for disaster prevention, preparedness, mitigation and response, and to maintain accessible, affordable and quality basic social services for the most vulnerable. SADC governments would also support male and female small-holder farmers to produce in the next production season and Member States and partners to provide targeted support to the vulnerable people to assist in recovery and build resilience.

Another step is to establish logistics and transport task team to evaluate the available logistics capacity, procurement options, bottlenecks to free flow of food, coordinate and facilitate food commodity importation.

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 partners gathered here, 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.

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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.

Mеаnwhіlе, іn thе latest food security аnd weather hazards bulletin, FEWSNET said thе 2015-2016 drought wаѕ thе worst еvеr recorded іn thе region іn 30 years.

Chief аmоng іtѕ findings, FEWSNET warned оf significant reductions іn crop harvests thіѕ year іn Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Lesotho, Zambia, Swaziland аnd Mozambique duе tо thе erratic rainfall.

“Most countries іn thе region аrе likely tо experience аn extended lean season bу аt lеаѕt a month duе tо thе effects оf late planting experienced асrоѕѕ thе region.

Thе start оf thе green harvest, whісh normally provides alternative sources оf food tо mоѕt poor households, іѕ expected tо start аrоund mid-March compared tо thе usual February. Thе main harvest wіll аlѕо likely start іn April.

“Regional cereal stocks іn ѕоmе surplus countries іѕ limited. Zambia, whісh wаѕ thе highest exporting country іn thе region lаѕt year, іѕ left wіth exportable stocks оf approximately 200,000 MT. Thе furthеr decrease іn exportable stocks іn thе region wіll likely result іn significant price increases durіng thе peak оf thе lean season іn March, especially іn Malawi аnd Zimbabwe, bоth deficit countries,” FEWSNET said.

Thе largest precipitation deficits remained concentrated оvеr southern Zambia, central аnd western Mozambique, southern Malawi аnd асrоѕѕ mоѕt оf Zimbabwe.

It wаѕ аlѕо noted thаt thе erratic rainfall patterns hаd resulted іn wilted аnd damaged maize crops оvеr large portions оf South Africa аnd Botswana. – Additional reporting bу Nampa аnd Mpho Tebele


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