Southern Africa: urgent measures needed to address El Niño impact

Southern Africa: urgent measures needed to address El Niño impact

29/02/2016

Countries in the Southern African Development Community need to urgently implement a set of agreed-upon measures  to mitigate the effects of El Nino. A strong El Niño has seen the 2015-2016 rainfall season being one of the driest in over 35 years in Southern Africa and has far reaching effects on main sectors including agriculture, fisheries, forestry, water, health, education and sanitation.

Crop and livestock production are already projected to decline sharply, triggering shortages and price hikes, and threatening people’s livelihood. This could mean a reversal in recent gains made in reducing malnutrition and also leave an increased number of people vulnerable to food insecurity, particularly women, children and HIV-affected people.

Speaking after a meeting convened by SADC, in partnership with FAO and the World Food Programme, David Phiri, FAO Subregional Coordinator for southern Africa said the region faced a predicament, which called for swift and coordinated action.

“In a region where 70 percent of the population depend on agriculture, the consequences are dire. Such a sharp decline in production is likely to result in increased malnutrition and hunger,” he said. “This comes against a backdrop of declining economies and the fall of most currencies in the region against the US Dollar, making this situation so severe that it can indeed be described as ‘El Niño plus’” Phiri added.

Southern Africa faces second successive drought season

The current crisis comes hot on the heels of a poor 2014-2015 season, which drought decimated crop yields in almost all the countries in the region – the total for 2014 was 43 million tonnes compared to 33 million tonnes for last year. SADC meeting participants acknowledged that climatic extremes would continue to recur and hence there was a need for the region to develop and implement both short, and medium/long-term measures in a coordinated manner.

FAO is already responding to the needs of communities. The focus of the agency’s immediate interventions includes supporting male and female farmers by providing drought-tolerant crops, seeds and livestock feed and carrying out vaccinations. FAO is also supporting longer-term resilience-building approaches among vulnerable groups, including the rehabilitation of irrigation systems, improving farmers' access to rural finance, and promoting wider use of climate-smart agricultural technologies. Several countries have already produced national plans that address the impact of El Niño on agriculture.

“The main challenge we are facing is that because the onset of drought is a slow process, funding to address the crisis remains inadequate. We are confident that this meeting has served to convey the urgency for action,” Phiri said. Some 165 delegates from the agriculture, environment, food and nutrition, disaster management, climate change, water, health, planning and finance sectors from the 15 SADC member states participated in the 2-day meeting, which ended on 26 February 2015. Other participants included representatives from the humanitarian, development and donor communities.