El Niño conditions persisting during the 2015/16 planting season have caused the worst drought in 35 years in Southern Africa, resulting in a second consecutive failed harvest. This has created severe food shortages and compounded existing vulnerabilities. Since July 2016, Namibia and Botswana have declared national drought emergencies, in addition to the declarations made earlier by Lesotho, Malawi, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. Madagascar issued a letter of solidarity with the SADC Appeal, and Mozambique has maintained a red alert in affected areas.
Southern Africa is now entering the peak of the crisis. Subsistence farmers’ meagre April 2016 harvest had largely been depleted by October. The next harvest is five months away in March/April 2017. Almost 513,000 children need treatment for severe acute malnutrition, 780,000 children for moderate acute malnutrition, and more than 3 million children still have reduced access to safe drinking water as a direct result of the drought. People targeted for humanitarian assistance will increase from 12.3 to 13.8 million during the January to April 2017 peak of the lean season, mainly due to rising needs in Malawi, Madagascar and Zimbabwe. Even with the generous funds received to date, many countries are facing a growing gap between needs and assistance levels.
Funding from international development partners and national governments has saved lives, protected livelihoods and helped reduce human suffering. As of November 2016, US$757 million have been raised for the humanitarian programmes in the RIASCO Action Plan. This funding has allowed WFP and partners to reach 6.6 million people in October and plan for 9 million in November with food and cash assistance. UNICEF and partners have treated more than 82,000 children for severe acute malnutrition and reached more than 790,000 people with clean water. More than 175,000 households (875,000 people) have received crop and livestock inputs from FAO. National social protection programmes have been strengthened and cash transfer programmes expanded to stimulate local markets. National and international NGOs, as well as IFRC and local Red Cross societies, have played an indispensable role in the response.
Humanitarian assistance across the region is being scaled up. Subject to availability of resources, WFP expects to reach 13 million of the food insecure people in January. FAO is planning to reach a total of 800,000 households (3.1 million people) with agriculture and livelihood support between December 2016 and January 2017. During the coming months, UNICEF will work with partners to reach some 513,000 severely malnourished children with lifesaving treatment and to provide water, sanitation and hygiene for over 4.6 million children and their families who are in need of critical support. UNICEF and partners will also continue to support countries to secure education for 1.9 million affected children, to provide protection and care for over 5 million vulnerable children, including through reinforcing and scaling up social cash transfer programmes.
The El Niño phenomenon has disproportionally affected women and children, exacerbating existing protection threats and vulnerabilities and creating new ones, adding another layer of negative coping mechanisms such as transactional sex, which increases vulnerability to sexually transmitted and HIV infections. Children are dropping out of school due to lack of water and food and entering into child labour or early marriage. In the 7 RIASCO countries, over 4 million children are in need of support to make sure they remain in school.
Southern Madagascar is of particular concern as maize, cassava and rice production decreased by as much as 95 per cent compared with 2015. An estimated 845,000 people are in either Emergency (330,000 in IPC Phase 4) or Crisis (515,000 in IPC Phase 3). The Madagascar humanitarian response plan is only 29 per cent funded.
The impact of El Niño-induced drought is exacerbated by weak commodity prices, unfavourable exchange rates and slow economic growth. In Malawi, the fourth poorest country in the world, per capita income is actually declining while food prices have increased to 172 per cent above the five year average. The fragile political and economic situation in several drought-affected countries further limit their governments’ capacity to responds effectively to the crisis.
Droughts cannot be prevented from occurring, but they should not result in humanitarian emergencies. Alongside humanitarian assistance, the RIASCO Action Plan includes a range of practical options to build resilience. Focus should be on the development of sound national policies and strategies, expanding coverage and strengthening social safety nets, promoting climate smart agriculture, reinforcing early warning systems and improving the management of water and other natural resources. Further investments in these areas, combined with solid fiscal and other risk management instruments at national and regional level, are required to build resilience.
Critical remaining funding gaps need to be met between December 2016 and April 2017. $1.3 billion is required to assist 13.8 million people in 7 priority countries between May 2016 and April 2017, up from $1.2 billion. To date $757 million have been provided, leaving a $550 million gap. The sectors of WASH, Health, Education, Protection and Nutrition remain especially underfunded.
Without additional funding, critical humanitarian needs will not be met. Millions of the most vulnerable will not receive full rations, hundreds of thousands of children are at risk of irreparable damage from undernutrition and risk dropping out of school, health centres cannot provide the most essential services as drought-related illnesses increase, and farmers will not be able to fully resume agricultural production.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.