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SADC Regional Situational Update on El Niño-Induced Drought

Situation Report
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  • The SADC region is experiencing a devastating drought episode associated with the 2015/2016 El Niño event which is negatively affecting livelihoods and the quality of lives across the region.

  • Four Member States have already declared national drought emergencies (Lesotho, Malawi, Swaziland and Zimbabwe). South Africa has declared a drought emergency in 7 of the country’s 9 provinces. Mozambique declared a 90-day institutional red alert for some southern and central areas.

  • Member States are currently conducting their annual vulnerability assessments and results are expected in early June 2016. These results will provide the effect of drought on food and nutrition security and vulnerability situation as a whole.

Situation Overview

The SADC region is experiencing a devastating drought episode associated with the 2015/2016 El Niño event which is negatively impacting on livelihoods and quality of lives.

The region experienced a delayed onset of the 2015/2016, rainfall season, followed by erratic rains. Analysis of rainfall performance shows that the October to December 2015 period, which represents the first half of the cropping season, was the driest in more than 35 years in several southern parts of the region. During the same period, higher than average temperatures were consistently experienced across the region. These dry conditions mostly affected Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe (figure 2).

Following the dry conditions from the beginning of the season in October 2015, heavy rains set in across most parts of the region for close to 30 days, between 21 February 2016 and 2016 March (figure 3). In parts of eastern Botswana and south- western Zimbabwe, the rainfall was three times the normal amount for this period, while in northern Botswana, parts of southern Angola, northern South Africa, southern Zambia and western Zimbabwe, rainfall was close to twice the normal amount.

Despite this improvement in rainfall, water availability for hydro-power generation for Zambia and Zimbabwe is still below normal. Most areas received above-normal rainfall during this period. The rains received helped to increase the amount of water available for human and livestock use, as well as improving pasture conditions. These rains were, however, too late for crops which had already wilted and died or were not even planted due to earlier dry conditions.

Although national, regional and international forecasts had by September 2015 predicted poor rainfall performance and high temperatures for the 2015/16 season, the severity of the drought conditions has been such that it has overwhelmed the disaster preparedness capacity in most of the affected Member States.

The 2015/16 El Niño follows closely on a previous poor rainfall season. The effect of the previous drier-than-normal season for most SADC countries resulted in reduced crop production, increased use of stored food reserves and savings used to buy food and non-food (such as seed and other agricultural inputs) commodities, reduced water levels, reduced pasture availability and increased strain on the revenue of most governments that were in the process of recovering from the earlier effects of global financial crises. The situation was further compounded by the fall in prices of commodities on the global market, an aspect that has reduced the revenue base of most governments, thereby increasing the strain on the revenue of most governments and their capacity to support socio protection programmes for the people affected by the drought.

Cereal supply and demand analysis for the 2015/16 marketing year showed that the region recorded an overall cereal deficit of about 7.8 million tonnes. The 2015 regional food security and vulnerability assessments showed that the number of food insecure people during the 2015/16 marketing year was more than 27 million people, which is about 9% of SADC’s total population.

The already serious problem of acute and chronic malnutrition in the region is expected to worsen, increasing risks of mortality of young children and the elderly. Steep food price hikes are expected in the 2016/17 marketing year due to poor grain production and the depreciation of the regional currencies against the US dollars. This El Niño event has seriously crippled agricultural production including crops and livestock; and dried up many water sources and reservoirs, with serious impacts not only on agricultural but energy supplies. Increased incidences of diseases are likely due to water shortages, lack of safe drinking water, and inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene practices; all which contribute to higher risk of preventable waterborne diseases. Additionally, the drought heightens financial constraints caused by food price increases that have recently been recorded. Furthermore, the production and supply of seeds, fertilizers and other inputs have also been adversely affected. These factors will constrain recovery in the medium term for the affected communities and thereby negatively impacting on agricultural plans for the next cropping season. The welfare of millions of households is in serious jeopardy due to the current crippling food shortages and future recovery input shortages.