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Drought, Famine Threaten Southern African Countries

*Zimbabwe begs UN, others for $2bn Aid *Zambia, Malawi raise alarm over food scarcity

By Grace Samuel, Ojugbele Omotunde

Southern African countries are facing an escalating crisis as Zimbabwe urgently appeals for $2 billion in aid from the United Nations, aid organizations, and individuals to combat severe food insecurity stemming from a drought induced by El Niño.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, in a press conference at the State House, declared a nationwide state of disaster, highlighting the gravity of the situation.

Zimbabwe’s anticipated grain harvest of 868,000 metric tons this year falls far short of national requirements by approximately 680,000 tons.

The dire need for funding is not unique to Zimbabwe; Malawi and Zambia have also declared states of disaster this year due to the ongoing drought.

Edward Kallon, the U.N. resident and humanitarian coordinator in Zimbabwe, underscores the crisis’s severe effects on multiple sectors including food, health, water, education, and employment.

The U.N. has already allocated $5 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund to address critical needs like water, sanitation, food, and healthcare amidst a cholera outbreak.

President Mnangagwa emphasized that over 2.7 million Zimbabweans face hunger this year due to the El Niño-induced drought, with 80% of the nation experiencing insufficient rainfall.

The adverse impact of El Niño disrupts wind patterns, leading to warmer ocean surface temperatures in the eastern and central Pacific, exacerbating crop failures since November, especially in hotter areas like maize-producing regions.

To mitigate the crisis, the Zimbabwean government plans to prioritize winter cropping to bolster reserves and collaborate with the private sector for grain imports, necessitating a financial outlay exceeding $2 billion for comprehensive national response measures.

Humanitarian organizations such as the World Food Programme, which fed 270,000 people between January and March in four districts, warn that the drought in Southern Africa has reached critical levels, defining the famine situation as grave and urging increased support to avert a humanitarian catastrophe.

A delayed start to the rainy season had caused drought, from Angola in the west to Mozambique in the east, devastating harvests relied on by tens of millions and withering waterways.

According to the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP), a huge area across the Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana border has endured its driest February in decades.

Regional experts say the warming El Nino climate pattern, which is currently releasing heat from the Pacific, has brought below-average rainfall to southern Africa.

However, the experts say this is amplifying the existing impacts of climate change, which is raising temperatures in the region.

 

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