By Mpho Tebele
Gaborone - A United Nations (UN) report has revealed that more than 9.6 million people in Botswana, eSwatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe are expected to face severe food insecurity in the coming months.
The report, compiled by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs states that both Madagascar (Beloha and Ampanihy Districts) and Zimbabwe (Kariba, Binga and Rushinga) have populations facing emergency (IPC Phase 4) food insecurity.
It says the highest numbers of severely food insecure people are projected to be in Malawi (3.3 million), Zimbabwe (2.4 million people just in rural areas), and Madagascar (1.3 million). Increase in food insecurity is closely linked to heightened protection risks for the most vulnerable.
In Madagascar, there are reports that households from Grand Sud are travelling long distances in search of work, and that very poor households who rely on charcoal or firewood for a living are travelling longer distances to collect them, exposing them to insecurity.
“The risk of an El Niño phenomenon between December and February, which coincides with the cropping season in Southern Africa, is currently 65-70%. This is lower than at the same time in 2015, when the probability was 90%,” the report found.
El Niño is historically associated with depressed rainfall in the southern half of the region. According to the most recent Southern African Regional Climate Outlook Forum (SARCOF) report a possible El Niño event could, therefore, lead to a further deterioration in food insecurity in the region in 2019-2020, particularly following the low and erratic rainfall recorded to date in 2018.
The report says at least 400,000 people across Southern Africa were impacted by floods and cyclones during the 2017/2018 season. This includes 212,000 people who were impacted either directly or indirectly by Tropical Cyclone Ava (161,000 people) and Tropical Storm Eliakim (51,000) in Madagascar.
Northern Mozambique was affected by heavy rainfall in January, affecting more than 73,200 people and damaging over 14,400 houses and 422 classrooms. Meanwhile, Mauritius and La Reunion were impacted by both Tropical Cyclone Berguitta (January 2018) and Tropical Cyclone Dumazile (March 2018). Localised floods caused displacement and infrastructure damage in Botswana, Malawi, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
According to the report, over 1,000 cholera cases have been recorded in the region to date in 2018, including in Angola, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Tanzania saw double the cases recorded from January to August 2018 (3,739) compared to the same period in 2017 (2,466), while Zambia accounts for nearly 40% of all cases in the region. Of particular note, a new outbreak has started in Harare, Zimbabwe, on 6 September, with 3,349 suspected cases reported and 32 deaths as of 14 September.
The report says the major risk factors propagating the Zimbabwe outbreak are unsafe burial practices, erratic water supply, burst sewer pipes and the use of unprotected water sources.
Other communicable diseases are also present in the region, including Hepatitis E in Angola and Namibia, Guinea Worm in Angola (first case confirmed in June 2018), measles in Mauritius and Zambia, typhoid in Zimbabwe, listeriosis in South Africa and dengue fever in the Seychelles and Tanzania.
The report says while governments in the region continue to respond to recurrent shocks, there is an urgent need for comprehensive action by governments and development partners to address the root causes of chronic vulnerability in the region, in particular through investments in shock-responsive social protection systems.
Regional humanitarian partners are supporting governments to enhance their preparedness for disasters and assisting the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) to develop a Regional Resilience Strategy.
“However, broader macro-economic and policy measures are urgently required to reduce chronic needs and respond to crises in the future.
These include building fiscal buffers, building resilient production systems and markets, and building on existing social safety net programmes, as highlighted following the 2016-2017 El Niño-induced drought,” the report says.
It warns that without urgent and comprehensive action to this end, chronic needs across the region will continue to become acute when vulnerable communities are hit with even the smallest shock.