The current El Niño event is signalled to be the strongest and longest event in 35 years. For southern Africa, El Niño usually means less rainfall in most countries but high rainfall in northern Tanzania and DRC. Across vast areas of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana, this has been the driest October-December, since 1981.
Lesotho and Zimbabwe have declared a state of disaster following the affects of drought caused by El Niño. Most provinces in South Africa have also declared a state of disaster.
It is estimated that 40 million rural people and 9 million poor urban people who live in drought-affected areas could be exposed, and an estimated 14 million people in the region are already food insecure.
Affected countries in the region include: Angola, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Major concerns are Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Swaziland and Angola command increasing attention.
El Niño conditions have caused the lowest recorded rainfall between October and December across many regions of Southern Africa in at least 35 years. Short-term forecasts from January to march indicate the high probability of continuing below-normal rainfall in the south, signalling that this could become one of the worst droughts on record.
The current growing season (October 2015-April 2016) is developing under the peak of the El Niño, with the first phase of the growing season characterized by severe and widespread rainfall deficits. El Niño’s impact on rain-fed agriculture is severe. Poor rainfall, combined with excessive temperatures, create conditions not conducive for crop growth. Although El Niño’s impact on people’s livelihood varies according to preparedness and response capacities, rain-dependent small holder farmers— comprising at least 50 percent of the population in Southern Africa–are the hardest hit. In Lesotho, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe, delayed planting of up to two months or more, severely impacts maize yields. As the window for planting closes, even good rainfall offers limited scope for recovery.
The climate outlook is particularly concerning as it is coming on top of a poor harvest in 2014/15. Poor regional cereal harvests from the 2014/15 season have tightened cereal supplies. On average, harvests were 21 percent lower than the 2013/14 season and 3 percent lower than the five-year average. In total, the cereal deficit for the region is 7.9 million tonnes for the 2015/2016 marketing year.