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Drought In Southern Africa Leaves Some 20 Million Facing Hunger

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At a food aid distribution location deep in rural Zimbabwe, Zanyiwe Ncube carefully and intensely concentratedly poured her modest allotment of precious golden cooking oil into a plastic bottle.

She declared, “I don’t want to lose a single drop.”

As relief workers gently imparted the news that this would be their final visit, her relief at the handout—paid for by the US government while her country in southern Africa battles with a severe drought—was muted.
In the Mangwe district in southwest Zimbabwe, Ncube and her 7-month-old kid, whom she carried on her back, were among the 2,000 individuals who were given rations of cooking oil, sorghum, peas, and other goods. Food distribution is a component of a program supported by USAID, an American aid organization, and rolled out by the United Nations’ World Food Programme.

Their goal is to assist a portion of the 2.7 million rural Zimbabweans who face starvation as a result of the drought that has engulfed most of southern Africa since late 2023. With the help of what should be the rainy season, it has burned the crops that tens of millions of people raise for themselves and depend on to survive.
They are becoming less and less dependent on the weather and their crops.
The drought that is affecting Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Zambia, a neighbor, has gotten out of control. National disasters have been declared in Malawi and Zambia. Zimbabwe may be on the verge of following suit. To the west, the drought has spread to Botswana and Angola; to the east, it has affected Madagascar and Mozambique.

A year ago, devastating tropical storms and floods soaked most of this region. A vicious weather cycle is currently in effect too much rain, followed by insufficient rain. It tells the tale of climate extremes that, according to scientists, are happening more frequently and causing greater harm, particularly to the most vulnerable people on the planet.

Both young and old waited in line for food in Mangwe; some carried whatever they might acquire home on donkey carts, while others used wheelbarrows. On the dusty ground sat others who were waiting their turn. A goat nearby attempted to graze on a prickly, unkempt bush.

The driest February in Zimbabwe has resulted in the loss of crops and food for many, including Ncube, a mother of three. The United Nations Children’s Fund reports overlapping crises of extreme weather in eastern and southern Africa, with an estimated 9 million people in Malawi needing help and over 6 million in Zambia, 3 million of whom are children. El Niño, a natural climatic phenomenon that warms parts of the Pacific Ocean every two to seven years, has caused below-average rainfall and sometimes drought in southern Africa.

The impact is more severe for those in Mangwe, where cereal grain sorghum and pearl millet, which are drought-resistant crops, have failed to withstand the conditions this year. The first few months of the year are traditionally the “lean months” when households run short as they wait for the new harvest. However, there is little hope for replenishment this year.

Multiple aid agencies warned last year of the impending disaster, with Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema stating that 1 million of his country’s staple corn crop has been destroyed. Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera has appealed for $200 million in humanitarian assistance. With this year’s harvest a write-off, millions in Zimbabwe, southern Malawi, Mozambique, and Madagascar won’t be able to feed themselves well into 2025. USAID’s Famine Early Warning System estimated that 20 million people would require food relief in southern Africa in the first few months of 2024.


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