Zimbabwe: Swift action required as numbers of people affected by drought rise

Last week the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) declared a regional drought emergency, signaling the dire situation in the region, and launching a $2.4 billion appeal to the international community. Oxfam Communications Coordinator Innocent Katsande reports from Zimbabwe on the urgent need for help.

“My crops were dried up by the drought and nothing else came from the field.”

This is the harsh reality for 62 year old Esther Ndlovu (pictured, above) as well as thousands of families in Matobo district in southern Zimbabwe, one of the hardest hit by the country’s worst drought in decades.

The drought has been exacerbated by the El Nino weather phenomenon, coming off two consecutive failed rain seasons. As a result, crops have wilted and harvests significantly reduced, leaving at least 4 million people or 42% of the population food insecure and in need of urgent aid until the next harvest in March 2017. This comes after the government officially declared a ‘state of national emergency’ in February 2016.

Across the southern Africa region, 18 million people similarly need help.

Crops and livestock are dying

According to the Southern Africa Development Authority (SADC), the drought has led to a 9.3 million ton regional shortfall in cereal production and hundreds of thousands of livestock deaths.

Aside from food, finding clean and safe water is becoming more difficult, as the drought has dried up many water sources. Many people are being forced to rely on unsafe sources putting them at risk of deadly water-borne diseases such as cholera.

Yet these extreme weather events are expected to increase in frequency and intensity across the country -the new normal.

El Nino officially ended in March 2016 but its effects will be felt for many months to come. In addition, meteorologists predict a 50-65% likelihood of a La Niña occurrence (extreme flooding) later this year. While this could provide much needed rainfall for agriculture, flooding could destroy crops and worsen the situation.

Nonetheless, the level of financial support available is yet to match up the scale of the crisis in Zimbabwe. The UN’s Food Insecurity Response Plan 2015-2016 currently under revision has received only 44% of requested funding. Despite El Nino impacting other areas such as water, health and education the response has been heavily focused on food security. Out of the targeted US$17.6 million for Oxfam’s response plan to support 200,000 vulnerable people, so far Oxfam has managed to secure $4.7 million, which is 30% of the intended target.

For suffering to be alleviated, swift action is required now by government and international donors to release much needed funds to ensure that people urgently receive the help they need.

Oxfam is there

Oxfam has been there. Since April, we have provided cash assistance to 30,615 people in Gutu and Matobo districts, to help them purchase food items from markets.

“Before we begun receiving cash assistance, we had reduced the number of meals we consumed a day. During the same period last year we would prepare three meals a day. This year we could barely afford one meal’’ Ana Hwachi from Gutu District said. ‘‘Sometimes I would pray and wonder how we will survive, but I’m thankful that I can now feed my family’’ she said.

As many water sources have dried up in her area in Matobo, 52 year old Prosper says there’s only one borehole left that serves up to two thousand people. “Sometimes I spend the whole day waiting in line for my turn to fetch water,” she says.

Others like Ana opt to walk long distances to find water. Those who can’t make the long walk like the elderly have to rely on the goodwill of their neighbors.

By repairing boreholes, Oxfam ensured 60,000 people now have access to clean and safe water, paired up with knowledge on good hygiene practices.

In the coming weeks, Oxfam plans to provide agricultural input such as drought-resistant seeds and fertilizers and help affected families plant their own crops, rebuild their livelihoods and better provide for their families.

But these gains risk reversal as the country’s economic crisis, characterized by a shortage of cash continues, meaning that food prices will increase and people will have to pay more for less. Oxfam and partners are currently exploring other response options including the use of vouchers and direct food aid to the affected communities.

Ultimately, southern African countries including Zimbabwe should increase their efforts to not only save lives now, but to also better prepare communities for future disasters and avoid worse humanitarian situations.

The entry posted by Innocent Katsande, Oxfam Program Communications Coordinator, on 2 August 2016.