The number of people affected by hunger in southern Africa ‘will stretch around the world’
The number of hungry children and adults living through Southern Africa’s worst drought in 35 years will soon be so vast that if put together would stretch one and a half times around the earth, warns humanitarian agency World Vision.
World Vision is concerned about the health, safety and protection of children, with UN food agencies estimating a record 45 million people living in 16 countries across the region will experience food shortages within six months. Climate change and more rapidly repeating, severe drought cycles are trapping people in a vicious cycle of poverty.
“It’s difficult to comprehend the number of people caught up in this terrible crisis. But if you took the average height of the girls, boys and adults trying to survive, then this line of the hungry people would stretch for 67,725 kilometres. That is more than one and a half times around the earth (40,075 km),” explained World Vision Southern Africa Hunger Emergency Response Director, Maxwell Sibhensana.
“This crisis is almost invisible to the public but on the ground we are witnessing the devastating effects of changing weather patterns that are creating unbearable situations for children. We know many children have been separated from families, are forced out of school and working to afford their next meal.”
Southern Africa’s drought has sparked critical food, nutrition and water insecurity. In technical terms, the number of people experiencing “crisis” or “emergency” levels of food insecurity (IPC Phases 3 and 4) has risen from nine to 11 million across nine countries in Southern Africa. Approximately half of those the worst impacted areas are children, who are at risk of hunger, disease, exploitation and death.
Parts of the region like Angola and Zimbabwe have experienced recurrent drought in recent years, causing failed harvests. In other areas, such as Mozambique, erratic floods and cyclones damaged 700,000 hectares of crops.
“We are having to factor climate change into our development programmes, anticipating the worst and helping farmers become more resilient to climate shocks, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts many Southern African countries will be among the most affected by climate change,” said Mr Sibhensana.
In Angola, more than 2.4 million people are affected, with an estimated 85,000 children experiencing severe or moderate acute malnutrition. World Vision screening data shows that malnutrition levels in Huila province have double compared to last year, currently at more than 20 per cent.
In Zimbabwe, 5.5 million people are facing hunger, with one in three people in major cities like Harare in need of humanitarian assistance. The cost of basic commodities has tripled as the country faces inflation and an economic crisis. The country’s staple crop, maize, is reported to run out in January.
In Zambia, more than 2.3 million people are estimated to be facing acute hunger due to devastating effects of erratic rains, dry spells, water logging, false and late starts to the 2018/2019 rain season on agriculture production.
World Vision Angola Humanitarian Emergencies Director, Robert Bulten, says the situation in Angola has been deteriorating for months and called for urgent humanitarian support.
“Children are barely eating one meal a day. Our staff, who worked in Angola just after the Civil War say they have never seen hunger and malnutrition on this scale,” said Mr Bulten.
“Even if the rains arrive soon, it would be months before worst-hit farmers can harvest,” said Mr Bulten.
World Vision is responding to the hunger emergency across seven countries –Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi and Mozambique. World Vision is appealing for USD 44 million to address urgent humanitarian needs including child protection, urgent treatment of malnutrition, prevention of diseases, food assistance and water and sanitation interventions.