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Southern Africa

Southern Africa is facing the peak impacts of the worst droughts in decades.

In a subregion where at least seven in ten people depend on farming and herding for their livelihoods, the effects have been widespread. The El Niño induced drought devastated rainfed agriculture, with less land planted and crops damaged owing to the late onset of the rains and generally erratic rainfall. Harvests were severely diminished, resulting in a regional shortfall of 9.3 million tonnes of maize. Decreased availability of pasture and water led to deteriorating livestock body conditions, increased risk and incidence of disease and over 643 000 livestock deaths in five countries alone.

Drought emergencies were declared in Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, Swaziland and Zimbabwe, as well as in the Grand Sud of Madagascar. Mozambique issued a Red Alert, and eight of South Africa’s nine provinces were declared drought disaster areas, having implications for maize exports within the subregion. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) declared a regional drought emergency on 26 July 2016, and launched a regional humanitarian appeal and released an addendum in mid-September to include additional information on recent national assessments.

Seed insecurity is expected to have soared – the extent of which will be confirmed by the results of a FAO-led regional seed and agricultural input assessment. Following multiple unsuccessful plantings and poor agricultural production, millions of farmers’ seed stocks have been depleted and the local availability of quality seed extremely limited in severely affected areas. Preliminary findings indicate significant gaps in both seed availability and accessibility, especially in Madagascar, Malawi and Mozambique.

With normal to above-normal rainfall predicted for most countries through the 2016/17 main agricultural season at the 20th Annual Southern Africa Regional Climate Outlook Forum (SARCOF-20),  this season could be a missed opportunity if farmers do not have sufficient quality inputs to plant.

Food insecurity is likely to intensify across Southern Africa during the October–March lean season, with the impacts of the drought (including on nutrition and livelihoods) lasting until the next harvest in April 2017. For most countries, the 2015/16 season was the second – or even third – consecutive year of poor rainfall.

Vulnerabilities are deepening across the subregion, with significant price increases for food and constrained purchasing power among affected communities amid a major regional economic downturn. Multiple hazards are further eroding coping capacities in drought-affected countries, including insecurity in Mozambique, a severe earthquake in Tanzania, the threat of locust infestation in border areas between Malawi and Mozambique, among others. Resilience-building strategies should be prioritized in such areas to avoid further deteriorations in the food security situation and improve communities’ ability to withstand future shocks.

Over half a million children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition in seven of the worst-affected countries (Angola, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zimbabwe). Many of the areas affected by drought are also characterized by high HIV rates – those living with the virus are more at risks to the severe effects of hunger, malnutrition and their ability to recover. Access to safe drinking water has also been constrained by the drought, jeopardizing the health of both people and their livestock.

FAO’s response

In response to soaring needs, FAO launched its Southern Africa El Niño Response Plan, appealing for USD 109 million to assist 3.4 million pastoral, agropastoral and smallholder farming households across ten countries. The scale and magnitude of the crisis called for enhanced response capacity; FAO therefore declared Corporate Surge Support for Southern Africa on 4 July, lasting until 15 February 2017. Providing overall coordination for the implementation of the Response Plan, the capacity of the FAO Southern Africa Resilience Hub (SFS REOSA) has been enhanced to increase technical and operational support to affected countries.

FAO actively supports subregional partners, including the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and is an active member of several coordination platforms, including the Regional Interagency Steering Committee (RIASCO), Food Security and Nutrition Working Group, Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) Technical Working Group and RIASCO Resilience Working Group. To support coordination efforts and contribute to drought response implementation, SADC established an El Niño Logistics and Coordination Team, to which FAO – among other agencies – has seconded staff.

Food security and agriculture information and analysis are prioritized through support to crop and input assessments, national Vulnerability Assessment Committees and IPC processes. Regional seed and agricultural inputs and water availability assessments have been conducted to determine the real impacts of El Niño and help inform response.

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