El Niño’s belly blow to Africa

Sunday Express - - HAVE YOUR SAY -

RE­MEM­BER all those ar­ti­cles about Ethiopia’s im­pres­sive growth rate of over 10 per­cent over the last decade? “Ethiopia is in­deed aim­ing to be­come a mid­dle-in­come country by 2025 and is on track to achieve this.

It has al­ready met or is com­ing close to meet­ing all Mil­len­nium De­vel­op­ment Goals, in­clud­ing uni­ver­sal pri­mary ed­u­ca­tion and re­duc­tions in in­fant and ma­ter­nal mor­tal­ity.

The poverty rate has fallen sig­nif­i­cantly over the last decade to un­der 26 per­cent in 2013. Un­em­ploy­ment is fall­ing and in­fla­tion is down.”

And our near neigh­bour: “Zam­bia’s econ­omy per­formed rel­a­tively well within the re­gion de­spite the de­cline in the growth rate.

This de­cline was largely a re­sult of lower pro­duc­tion in the min­ing sec­tor com­pared to the year be­fore as well as slower growth in man­u­fac­tur­ing and pub­lic ser­vices.

“Agri­cul­ture, on the other hand, put in a strong per­for­mance grow­ing at over 6 per­cent as a re­sult of a bumper maize har­vest.

Eco­nomic per­for­mance is ex­pected to re­main strong in the medium term driven by large in­vest­ments in in­fras­truc­ture and a grow­ing pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tion and de­fence.”

Now, not so much: “Pro­jec­tions for growth in Zam­bia, which av­er­aged more than 7 per­cent for the decade up to 2015, have been cut in half.”

Why? In Zam­bia, al­most all en­ergy is hy­dropow­ered, mostly by wa­ter from Kariba Dam, which is the bor­der be­tween Zam­bia and Zim­babwe.

And the pro­duc­tion of elec­tric­ity has dropped to about a quar­ter of the norm, as the dam has sunk to 12 per­cent of its ca­pac­ity, thanks to the very poor rains.

It was at about 50 per­cent of ca­pac­ity this time last year, thanks to a drought sea­son from 2014/15, and that was bad enough, re­duc­ing en­ergy pro­vi­sion by around a quar­ter, but this is dev­as­tat­ing for the country.

Black­outs are crip­pling busi­ness large and small, and have played a part in the lay­offs ex­pe­ri­enced in the cop­per in­dus­try.

Mean­while, in Ethiopia the rains cru­cial to about four-fifths of the country’s crops have failed. About 80 per­cent of Ethiopian em­ploy­ment is in agri­cul­ture, which makes up close on half of the country’s GDP.

“Poor spring rains have made Ethiopia’s worst drought in 50 years even more se­vere, and the govern­ment es­ti­mates the num­ber of dis­tricts suf­fer­ing a hu­man­i­tar­ian emer­gency has risen by nearly one-fifth in three months.

“The new fig­ures will feed into the cur­rent re­vi­sion by the govern­ment and aid agen­cies of a joint ap­peal in De­cem­ber for $1.4 bil­lion for more than 10 mil­lion peo­ple, some of them herders whose cat­tle are lying dead on the dry, dusty ground.”

Go to the Famine Early Warn­ing Sys­tems Net­work (FEWSNET) and you’ll see that ar­eas of great­est con­cern glob­ally are Ethiopia and South Su­dan, with south­ern Africa, Nige­ria and Chad among the sec­ond tier of con­cern. And Malawi has just de­clared a state of emer­gency.

The United Na­tions has warned that over 36 mil­lion peo­ple across Africa face hunger, 16 mil­lion of them in south­ern Africa — and that’s just the most scary im­pact.

As you read of busi­nesses lay­ing off peo­ple due to black­outs in Zam­bia and chil­dren who can’t go to school in Ethiopia thanks to the drought, you be­gin to grasp the scale of the eco­nomic and hu­man im­pact this El Niño has had on the con­ti­nent, and how long the rip­ple ef­fects will take to smooth out.

But it’s not just the an­gri­est El Niño ever recorded; a highly re­spected cli­mate sci­en­tist told me that about half the in­ten­sity of this El Niño needs to be laid at the door of cli­mate change.

The signs were al­ready there. In 2011, at COP17, I spoke to African farm­ers who came to tell the world their ex­pe­ri­ences of cli­mate change: the long gaps be­tween rains, the pound­ing storms that even­tu­ally came and scoured seedlings out of the ground, the change in tem­per­a­tures that meant switch­ing crops.

A cou­ple of years later, I wrote about a sci­en­tist at the CSIR who was look­ing at sim­i­lar im­pacts on farm­ers in Lim­popo; in 2014, I cov­ered a con­fer­ence of African women farm­ers, and noted how many of them spoke in­de­pen­dently about the im­pacts they were feel­ing — one group, from Mada­gas­car, had to switch from farm­ing rice to live­stock, which re­quires a whole ‘nother skill set.

While ma­jor stake­hold­ers in agri­cul­ture get used to the ‘new nor­mal’ — in­stead of a drought ev­ery ten years or so, we have to an­tic­i­pate one ev­ery three or four years, and how do we farm un­der those con­di­tions? — the politi­cos might want to con­sider what such dire ‘food in­se­cu­rity’ (read: star­va­tion, famine) will mean to po­lit­i­cal regimes and life on the con­ti­nent.

Food prices played an im­por­tant role in trig­ger­ing the Arab Spring, re­mem­ber.

And hunger spurs peo­ple to move, too — it was the potato famine that sent so many Rea­gans and Kennedys to the USA (about 10 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion has some Ir­ish an­ces­try).

You think the cur­rent wave of im­mi­grants cross­ing the Med is bad? Wait till half a con­ti­nent gets rest­less! And they won’t all be headed for Europe: huge num­bers will be mov­ing to where the grass seems greener (South Africa, per­haps?).

This com­ing year is, I sus­pect, go­ing to be ‘in­ter­est­ing’, in the Chi­nese sense. Best we stop with the in­ter­nal po­lit­i­cal non­sense and up our game to be ready for a neigh­bour­hood in cri­sis.

Mandi Small­horne is a ver­sa­tile jour­nal­ist and ed­i­tor.

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LDF Com­man­der Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Tlali Kamoli.

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