Harare - A prolonged dry spell and an invasive crop-eating worm are set to sharply curtail harvests across the southern African region, which could result in severe hunger for millions of people.
According to a statement released on Friday by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), millions of people in the region are facing hunger as a result of the twin scourges of poor rains and fall army worm infestation.
“Even if there is above-average rainfall over coming months, much of the damage to crops is irreversible,” warned WFP regional programme adviser Brian Bogart.
The dry spell, which started in October, has caused crops to wilt, threatening the survival of both livestock herds and people.
Bogart said the scourge “shows how important it is to address the root causes of hunger and malnutrition in the face of changing climatic conditions”.
The humanitarian community is now working with governments, the Southern African Development Community and other partners to assess the extent of the damage and its likely impact on those most at risk in the region.
In Zimbabwe, the UK Department of International Development (DFID) on Friday announced a £21.5m grant towards the Zimbabwe Resilience Building Fund.
According to a statement released by the DFID, the fund seeks to strengthen the capacity of vulnerable rural communities to withstand shocks and stresses, ultimately reducing their need for humanitarian help and improving their wellbeing.
In a signing ceremony held with the United Nations Development Programme at the UN office grounds in Harare, Annabel Gerry, head of the DFID in Zimbabwe, said: "Climate change is already evident here (in Zimbabwe) - this year we've been experiencing hotter days and higher frequency of dry spells during the rainy season.
"Without adapting, poverty, food insecurity, malnutrition, and environmental degradation will continue to be serious challenges in Zimbabwe, particularly in rural areas."
She said climate change is adding to the difficulties of the estimated one million Zimbabweans who are currently chronically food insecure. Zimbabwe is not alone, as other southern African countries have also battled with the El Niño -induced drought in the last few years.
Cape Town is facing the prospect of Day Zero and its water shortage might spread to other cities, with restrictions on water use already in effect in both Durban and Johannesburg.
The problems stem in part from a lack of rainfall. Since 2013, South Africa has endured some of the driest years in more than a century.
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