Drought crip­ples SADC poor

CityPress - - News - SIZWE SAMA YENDE sizwe.yende@city­press.co.za

Poor peo­ple will feel the ef­fect of the drought for much longer than their wealth­ier coun­ter­parts as it af­fects the South­ern African Devel­op­ment Com­mu­nity (SADC) re­gion and es­ca­lates food prices, ac­cord­ing to a re­port pub­lished this week by Ox­fam In­ter­na­tional.

The re­port, ti­tled The Long­est Lean Sea­son, stud­ied seven coun­tries: An­gola, Le­sotho, Malawi, Mada­gas­car, Mozam­bique, Swazi­land and Zim­babwe. It es­ti­mates that 28 mil­lion peo­ple in south­ern Africa ur­gently need drought re­lief and 13 mil­lion more are ex­pected to suf­fer from hunger be­fore next year’s har­vest.

As a re­sult, strug­gling SADC gov­ern­ments would need at least $2.9 bil­lion (R41 bil­lion) in do­na­tions for hu­man­i­tar­ian aid – but that money has not been forth­com­ing.

Tigere Ch­agutah, Ox­fam South­ern Africa’s re­gional pol­icy man­ager, said that, be­cause of the wors­en­ing wa­ter cri­sis, food in­se­cu­rity in South Africa was af­fect­ing at least 14.3 mil­lion peo­ple, of whom 8 mil­lion were liv­ing in ur­ban ar­eas.

Ox­fam has urged SADC re­gional gov­ern­ments, donors and hu­man­i­tar­ian agen­cies to in­ter­vene be­fore the next har­vest sea­son as south­ern Africa teeters on the brink of dis­as­ter while it awaits the next har­vest, which is at least four months away.

Ac­cord­ing to non­profit or­gan­i­sa­tion Pi­eter­mar­itzburg Agency for Com­mu­nity So­cial Ac­tion, based in KwaZu­luNatal, South Africa’s poor fam­i­lies are also strug­gling, with low-in­come house­holds pri­ori­tis­ing sta­ple foods such as maize meal, rice, cake flour, white sugar and cook­ing oil.

“They forgo meat, veg­eta­bles and dairy prod­ucts, or re­duce and buy much cheaper, poorer qual­ity al­ter­na­tives,” said the agency.

Agri­cul­tural Busi­ness Cham­ber (Ag­biz) says that South Africa last week im­ported 71 226 tons of white (62%) and yel­low (38%) maize from Mex­ico and Ar­gentina.

Ag­biz CEO John Pur­chase said the real ef­fects of the drought would be felt in the next three to five years be­cause maize af­fects all other value chains, in­clud­ing red meat, broiler meat and the dairy in­dus­try.

“Ox­fam is cor­rect that food price in­fla­tion is higher in the deep ru­ral ar­eas … about 25%. The diet there is pri­mar­ily white maize, which is im­ported and dis­trib­uted to those ar­eas,” said Pur­chase. “Once we get to the nor­mal sit­u­a­tion of hav­ing sur­plus maize, food in­fla­tion will come down con­sid­er­ably,” he said, adding that while there had been some rain, South Africa was “not yet out of the woods”.

Ox­fam fo­cuses ex­ten­sively on Malawi and Zim­babwe, which are grap­pling with the ef­fects of El Niño, and it warns that those gov­ern­ments’ abil­ity to meet food se­cu­rity, poverty re­duc­tion and Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment Growth Goals tar­gets are un­cer­tain. In Malawi, it is es­ti­mated that 6.5 mil­lion peo­ple, or 39% of the pop­u­la­tion, would need as­sis­tance. There­fore, the gov­ern­ment needed $380 mil­lion for drought re­lief pro­grammes and has only been able to pro­vide $50 mil­lion on its own to the Na­tional Food Re­serve to pro­cure grain. The drought has caused gross do­mes­tic prod­uct losses of 10.4% and in­creased poverty by 17%, the re­port says.

Mean­while, Zim­babwe ex­pected to have 4.1 mil­lion peo­ple with­out food se­cu­rity at the peak of the hunger pe­riod from Jan­uary to March next year. The coun­try’s mal­nu­tri­tion rate is ar­guably the high­est in 15 years, and with the coun­try ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a cash cri­sis, small-scale traders who im­port food and sup­ply to vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties were strug­gling to stay afloat and op­er­a­tional.

The cash cri­sis, com­bined with the food short­ages in the re­gion, will see in­fla­tion soar­ing in the next few months. Zim­babwe alone needs $1.04 bil­lion for re­lief, but its gov­ern­ment has man­aged to raise only $1.3 mil­lion for this pur­pose.

“House­holds in both these coun­tries have re­sorted to des­per­ate mea­sures to cope. They skip meals, sell their as­sets and get into in­for­mal min­ing. Lack of food weighs heav­ily on women, who are forced into trans­ac­tional sex and early mar­riages that lead to teenage preg­nan­cies,” says the re­port.

TALK TO US Are gov­ern­ments do­ing enough to save starv­ing fam­i­lies af­fected by the pro­longed drought in south­ern Africa?

SMS us on 35697 us­ing the keyword DROUGHT and tell us what you think. Please in­clude your name and prov­ince. SMSes cost R1.50

John Pur­chase

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