The record low rainfall and high temperatures being presently experienced in many places in Southern Africa, including here in Mwandi, are threatening crops and bringing food insecurity to around an estimated 30 million people. This has sent alarm bells ringing at the World Food Programme. Last year’s harvest in our region was also poor, so this crisis is likely to continue well into 2017, as stock-piles fall, food prices rise and people starve.
South Africa, the region’s agricultural giant, had a harvest last year that was a third down on the previous year, so it will need to import maize. Last year Malawi’s harvest was a quarter less than usual, with a similar proportion of the population now going hungry. Around 2.5 million people, at present, are reckoned to be in crisis and in need of some humanitarian intervention.
Traditionally Zambia has been a maize exporter to the region, but last year's production was 21 percent down on 2014. Zambia's surplus stocks has allowed us to export to neighbouring countries, but this has led to some concern as close to 800,000 Zambians are estimated to be at risk. The Government has assured the public that stocks are adequate to see us through the year.
While we in Zambia are still suffering from rolling power-cuts, due to falling water levels in Lake Kariba, in Lesotho, 650,000 people - one third of the population - do not have enough food. Water rationing in several districts too, is severely impacting agriculture, industry, schools, and hospitals. All the SADC countries are affected to some degree
The rains which usually begin at the end of October or the beginning of November began around 6 weeks later than normal and have been up to 80% less than expected. This will drastically affect this year’s harvest, will lead to higher food prices in Zambia and all our neighbouring countries and increase substantially the number of food insecure people in the region. High prices, because of increased demand, higher production costs and inflation, have eroded the purchasing power of poorer households throughout the country.
In our area food insecurity is expected to reach crisis point for even more people in the first quarter of this year, with livestock prices decreasing and other food prices rising. With these adverse conditions, planting was delayed or crops re-sown with recycled seeds, the area sown was reduced, meaning a smaller harvest. The lack of surface water and dry seasonal water courses has led to livestock being moved greater distances to find water.
FIGURE 1. AREAS AFFECTED BY DROUGHT IN SOUTHERN AFRICA, NOVEMBER 1, 2015 - JANUARY 13, 2016 (ARC2 RAINFALL DATA)
Source: FEWS NET/NOAA
The map above shows how poor the agricultural season has been across the Southern Africa, largely due to the El Niño effect. The rains came late to South Africa, Southern Mozambique and northern Namibia and to parts of central and southern Malawi. This period has been the driest on record for parts of central South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, central Mozambique, and central Zambia. The above-average temperatures have also affected vegetation cover, now at its lowest level for 15 years.
The current food insecurity situation is expected to deteriorate further in the near future, though the harvests in April or May might offer some short-term relief. The harvest is likely to be consumed by July and substantially increased numbers of malnourished people will be needing help by the new year, the numbers probably reaching 2002/2003 levels.
So how is this affecting us here on the ground in Mwandi. A Vulnerability Needs Assessment Report has been undertaken and its findings tend to confirm that Mwandi is part of a fairly similar overall picture. The World Renew Food Relief Programme suggests that this year will be similar to last year with over half the subsistence farmers having used up this year’s harvest by July and 90% by November. Below is a table with some rounded figures:
From World Renew’s distribution information the following table has been compiled:
Households Moderately Food Insecure
Households Severely Food Insecure
Grain needed from Aug-Mar 16
This is the number of times people are reporting they are eating each day at the moment:
As expected statistics suggest that households with members living with HIV/AIDS, child-headed households, households with larger families and the elderly are the people eating mostly only twice per day.
This is being addressed partially by infant, supplementary and therapeutic feeding programmes at the Hospital. Mothers and children’s body mass index are being monitored at Under 5 Clinics and unfortunately after admission to hospital. This is why we appreciate so much the support we receive from the Church of Scotland HIV Programme and Impact AIDS Edinburgh to supply much needed nutrition to these especially vulnerable people.
In the longer term work is being done using appropriate technology to encourage conservation farming with crop and food diversification, trying to lessen overdependence on carbohydrates (mainly maize).
Water management is being addressed as well so that the most is made from the water we have, such as by monitoring and maintaining existing boreholes and water sources. Linked to this, sanitation and hygiene enhancement is underway but much still needs to be done to stop open defecation and using untreated drinking water.
So far this has all been very rational but living amongst this injustice also invokes an indignant and emotional response aroused by continual exposure to the sights, sounds and smells of human need: wasted mothers with stunted children, children scavenging in rubbish pits like dogs, the outstretched hand with the word “Tala” (Hunger). It is so demeaning and undignified for those affected, who because they are powerless, do not have the right to food.
To quote Pope Benedict: “The right to food like the right to water has an important place within the pursuit of other rights, beginning with the fundamental right to life. It is, therefore, necessary to cultivate a public conscience that considers food and access to water as universal rights of all human beings, without distinction or discrimination.”
This cannot be done by the Church alone, as Psalm 113 makes it clear:
He raises the poor from the dust,
And lifts the needy from the ash.
He seats them with princes,
With the princes of their people.
This surely suggests that Government has a role to play too.