As we have feared, the year 2020 is turning out to be yet another drought year across the SADC region.
Despite predictions of normal to above normal rainfall in many countries across the region for the period October-November-December 2019 and January-February-March 2020 by climate experts last August, less rains have been experienced, raising fears of a devastating drought.
Already, countries across the region are in the middle of coming up with measures to mitigate the grain deficits so as to avert hunger. A drought across the SADC region is likely to throw member countries into a tailspin as lack of rains is a big blow to their agro-based economies.
Normally, this time of the year rains would be falling in most parts of the region raising prospects for economic growth as most countries heavily rely on agriculture.
But since December last year, there has been scant rainfall throughout the region. There are now fears that a devastating drought could hit most countries in the region.
Climate experts who met in Luanda, Angola, in August last year had predicted that the region was likely to receive normal to above rainfall from October to December 2019 and normal to below normal rains from January to March 2020.
As we report elsewhere in this issue, the International Federation of Red Cross Societies has launched an emergency appeal seeking 7,7 million Swiss francs to help scores of households affected by the drought across the SADC region.
In a report seen by this publication, the international humanitarian organisation states that the funds would enable support to four national societies in Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho and Namibia to enable them to deliver assistance to 81,000 people (16,200 households) affected by the worsening drought for 14 months with a focus on livelihoods and basic needs.
The planned response reflects the current situation and information available at this time of the operation.
The report states that the four targeted countries were selected bearing in mind that the Red Cross and Red Crescent network has ongoing operations in Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe, which are all addressing food insecurity.
According to the report, the 2018/19 rains were largely poor and latest forecasts indicate that several countries will be seriously affected by the continuation of the current dry conditions during the 2019-2020 production season.
These include Eswatini and Lesotho, Mozambique, South Africa, parts of Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Earlier forecasts by the Southern African Regional Climate Outlook (SARCOF) indicated a 25% likelihood of below average rainfall. However, more recent forecasts indicated a much more serious situation of 70-80% likelihood of a consecutive below average rainfall season.
The impending drought therefore requires member states to plan carefully and ensure that there are measures in place to deal with issues of food security. Alarm bells should be sounded across the region so that authorities take proactive measures.
Most countries in the SADC region are heavily dependent on agriculture, and poor rains spell doom for prospects for growth. This also means huge amounts of money would have to be channeled towards importing food, money which would otherwise have been channeled towards other needy areas like health, education and infrastructural development.
This is why we have always called upon leaders in the region to move away from over reliance on rain-fed agriculture. Climate change, of which the droughts are associated with, is real and the SADC region has been at the receiving end in recent years.
There is a need for massive investment in dams and irrigation infrastructure so that when the region is hit by such calamities, it can still be able to produce food for its peoples.
We believe the region can adequately plan for droughts if there is political will by governments to invest in dams and irrigation systems that would ensure countries do not have to wait for the rainy seasons, but can plant crops year round.
Examples abound elsewhere where arid countries have gone on to develop their agricultural systems such that they do not feel the effects of droughts. We have always maintained that if a country like Israel, which is largely desert, can develop its agriculture to a point of being a net exporter of food, what stops countries in Southern Africa from doing the same?
The region is endowed with good climate and has fairly large rivers which could be dammed for agricultural purposes. We see no reason why year in and year out, countries watch millions of cubic metres of water flowing to the Indian and Atlantic oceans, but sit and mourn about poor rains.
We believe it is time for leaders in the region to think outside the box and stop relying on rain-fed agriculture. Once we call upon them to take proactive measures to tame the recurrent droughts.