Watching your livelihood dry up before your eyes is something every farmer understands and fears. One of my brothers is a cattle rancher; he’s been hit more times than I can remember by devastating dry spells, the crops failing and animals dying in an endless cycle of heartbreak. In the United States, Californians know all too well the pain of a dried up well and water rationing.
Right now in southern Africa, a “perfect storm” of weather and economic factors are creating crippling impact in countries like Malawi. An historic drought has left large numbers of farmers without a harvest to feed their families and communities. The result of one of the strongest El Niños on record is that millions of people are in crisis and need support to feed themselves and their families.
The World Food Programme (WFP) has declared a Level-3 emergency across southern Africa — the UN agency’s most serious classification. They are working quickly to provide resources to provide life-saving food assistance to 11.5 million people in the countries of Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin traveled to Malawi recently with Jill Biden, Second Lady of the United States, to bring attention to the drought and food crisis. At least 6.5 million people, almost 40 percent of the population of Malawi, need emergency food assistance.
“This is a dire situation, one that the world needs to take notice of right now before it’s too late,” Cousin said during her three-day visit to Malawi. “I’ve talked with women in rural areas who told me they have enough food for just a few more weeks, after which they will have nothing.”
This year’s harvest in the South Africa will be half of the 2013-2014 harvest. Additionally, other related challenges in the region are contributing to the fall in food production, including the use of crops that don’t do well in drought, difficulty with planting, and global price drops in other key economic sectors such as mining. The net result for the entire region is that children under five are the most vulnerable. Stunted physical and mental development, as a result of low nutrition, will impact these countries for decades. In four of the seven countries listed above, stunting rates for children under five are more than 40 percent.
WFP says that without help, families will start to eat the seeds they would normally have saved for the next planting season, so the first priority is to help farmers get the most from the next planting season that starts in October. WFP is purchasing and positioning food now before the rains come later this year, which will make certain areas inaccessible to WFP because of poor infrastructure.
“We are seeing all the indicators of a perfect storm coming towards us in southern Africa,” Cousin said. “We have an opportunity to move this boat in a different direction and avoid this storm.”
Take Action Challenge
Help the World Food Programme fight against the heart break so many are experiencing right now in Southern Africa. Go to WFP.org to learn more and donate if you can to help with immediate relief. Follow them on Twitter and Facebook to keep informed.
[Lead photo by UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe]