Drought cripples SADC poor

2016-11-27 10:32
John Purchase

John Purchase

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Poor people will feel the effect of the drought for much longer than their wealthier counterparts as it affects the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region and escalates food prices, according to a report published this week by Oxfam International.

The report, titled The Longest Lean Season, studied seven countries: Angola, Lesotho, Malawi, Madagascar, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

It estimates that 28 million people in southern Africa urgently need drought relief and 13 million more are expected to suffer from hunger before next year’s harvest.

As a result, struggling SADC governments would need at least $2.9 billion (R41 billion) in donations for humanitarian aid – but that money has not been forthcoming.

Tigere Chagutah, Oxfam Southern Africa’s regional policy manager, said that, because of the worsening water crisis, food insecurity in South Africa was affecting at least 14.3 million people, of whom 8 million were living in urban areas.

Oxfam has urged SADC regional governments, donors and humanitarian agencies to intervene before the next harvest season as southern Africa teeters on the brink of disaster while it awaits the next harvest, which is at least four months away.

According to nonprofit organisation Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action, based in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa’s poor families are also struggling, with low-income households prioritising staple foods such as maize meal, rice, cake flour, white sugar and cooking oil.

“They forgo meat, vegetables and dairy products, or reduce and buy much cheaper, poorer quality alternatives,” said the agency.

Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz) says that South Africa last week imported 71 226 tons of white (62%) and yellow (38%) maize from Mexico and Argentina.

Agbiz CEO John Purchase said the real effects of the drought would be felt in the next three to five years because maize affects all other value chains, including red meat, broiler meat and the dairy industry.

“Oxfam is correct that food price inflation is higher in the deep rural areas … about 25%. The diet there is primarily white maize, which is imported and distributed to those areas,” said Purchase.

“Once we get to the normal situation of having surplus maize, food inflation will come down considerably,” he said, adding that while there had been some rain, South Africa was “not yet out of the woods”.

Oxfam focuses extensively on Malawi and Zimbabwe, which are grappling with the effects of El Niño, and it warns that those governments’ ability to meet food security, poverty reduction and Sustainable Development Growth Goals targets are uncertain.

In Malawi, it is estimated that 6.5 million people, or 39% of the population, would need assistance.

Therefore, the government needed $380 million for drought relief programmes and has only been able to provide $50 million on its own to the National Food Reserve to procure grain.

The drought has caused gross domestic product losses of 10.4% and increased poverty by 17%, the report says.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe expected to have 4.1 million people without food security at the peak of the hunger period from January to March next year.

The country’s malnutrition rate is arguably the highest in 15 years, and with the country experiencing a cash crisis, small-scale traders who import food and supply to vulnerable communities were struggling to stay afloat and operational.

The cash crisis, combined with the food shortages in the region, will see inflation soaring in the next few months. Zimbabwe alone needs $1.04 billion for relief, but its government has managed to raise only $1.3 million for this purpose.

“Households in both these countries have resorted to desperate measures to cope.

"They skip meals, sell their assets and get into informal mining. Lack of food weighs heavily on women, who are forced into transactional sex and early marriages that lead to teenage pregnancies,” says the report.

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