The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has approved a “Declaration of the Regional Drought Disaster”, in acknowledgement of the severe levels of hunger and food insecurity in the region.
If no action is taken to address the issue, brought on by drought as a result of El Nino, there is fear that the number of people affected in southern Africa will rise to 50 million, up from the current estimate of 28 to 30 million people.
International aid organizations Oxfam, Save the Children and Care International are jointly calling on donors to respond to the SADC call, with urgency.
Despite the many appeals for funding and food assistance, Oxfam’s Nellie Nyang’wa told VOA Studio 7 that reaction is slow.
“What concerned us is that there hasn’t been much sense of urgency coming from donors, coming from government and so as Oxfam, we have been lobbying quite a bit for these agencies to take action.”
She added that the declaration is a very strong statement from stakeholders in the region. “It’s rare and I don’t think we remember when a whole region declared a disaster … Significance of this is that SADC is acknowledging that this is unprecedented. It’s a big crisis that is affecting most of the countries in the region, and as a group of governments in this region, they acknowledge that it’s a big disaster.”
Nyang’wa said the declaration is also going to help relief aid agencies to highlight the plight of the people in the region. “So we needed more voices and SADC is one of the stronger voices that we have been waiting for.”
Essential life-saving crops have failed after at least two consecutive bad harvests, driven this year by a ‘super’ El Nino, which has resulted in erratic, unpredictable weather, reduced or no rainfall in many areas, and flash flooding in others.
“SADC’s declaration of a regional emergency must be a clarion call for donors, national governments and the humanitarian community to act faster,” said Save the Children’s East and Southern Africa Regional Director, David Wright.
“The current El Niño is now the strongest on record, leaving millions in the path of severe droughts and destructive flooding which threaten the lives of families and children across the world. Without help, many children face hunger, disease, and futures deprived of the opportunities provided by education and protection.”
Oxfam’s Daniel Sinnathamby added that “although a lot of work is already underway to ensure that affected people, especially women and children, can access enough food over the coming weeks and months, much more must be done because the crisis threatens to overwhelm both governments’ ability to respond and people’s ability to cope.”
Sinnathamby said this current phenomenon is a strong sign of what “we can expect from a climate-changed world - we need to meet people’s immediate needs but we must address the longer-term issues which have made men, women and children in Southern Africa chronically vulnerable,” he warned.
SADC’s announcement included the approval of a regional logistics team to coordinate the immediate response as well as longer-term calls to action for its member states to scale up technological development for agriculture, energy and water to help mitigate the impact of climate change on the region’s poorest people and help communities become more resilient to future weather events and shocks, including building up social services and scaling-up programmes to help minimise the impact of climate change on the region’s poorest people.
“It is increasingly difficult for people to access affordable staple foods across the region, therefore these measures are vital so that more people are able to cope, and ultimately survive,” added Sinnathamby.
CARE’s East, Central and Southern Africa Regional Director, Emma Naylor-Ngugi, noted that “as a result of climate change, extreme weather events such as El Niño are having an even greater impact on poor and marginalized communities in Southern Africa, CARE is especially concerned about the impact of the crisis on women and girls. Increasingly families are skipping meals and eating wild fruits to get by.”
Oxfam, Save the Children and Care called for urgent donor intervention to address the imminent crisis in the region, and for national governments to play a critical role to ensure that the most vulnerable are able to access humanitarian relief to save lives now.
According to Nyang’wa, in Zimbabwe, the organization does a lot of developmental work and under normal circumstances where there is no crisis, “we have been doing a lot of work with farmers, we have also done health work, around HIV/AIDS, specially reproductive health, we do a lot of work around women’s rights, as well, and so when we have an emergency like this, our first observation and assessment come out of the fact that we are on the ground.”
Zimbabwe says at least 4 million people need urgent food aid. UNICEF indicated this week that 33,000 children are facing acute malnutrition due to the El Nino fuelled drought that has gripped the region.
While the strength of El Niño is set to decrease over the first part of 2016, its full force of its impact of people’s lives will be felt over the coming months.