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Southern Africa headed for a drought

cattle-die from droughtI have lived through a few droughts, but the words El Nino ring a bell that takes me back to high school. The drought in the early 1990’s saw us eating ‘Kenya’ and back in boarding school, it gave the nuns every reason to feed us some terrible food. I recall my geography teacher hammering into us the need to conserve water. To this day, I have never gotten over those water saving habits, that I formed as a teenager. What is the point re-learning how to waste waster?

El Nino is back, bringing misery for subsistence farmers in partcicular soaring temperatures and below-average rainfall are likely to be features of the coming South African summer as the strongest El Nino event in decades climbs towards a peak.

A few weeks ago, Southern Africa experienced a heat wave, an indication that El Nino is with us.This summer,temperatures over large parts of the country could be as much as two degrees [Celcius] higher than average, says Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) meteorologist Willem Landman. “There is a reasonable chance we could be heading for the hottest summer on record.”

Conversely, rainfall is likely to be well below average, posing a threat to especially subsistence and smallholder farmers who rely on summer rain to water their crops.

“Rainfall across the summer rainfall regions of South Africa — over the three-month period [of] December to February — could be between 50mm and 150mm below average,” says Landman.

He says while it was possible that these forecasts are not entirely accurate, the data suggests the El Nino is going to become “very strong” indeed.

According to the World Meteoro–logical Organisation (WMO), the United Nations inter-governmental agency tasked with keeping an eye on global climate trends, “the majority of international climate outlook models suggest the 2015/16 El Nino is likely to strengthen further before the end of the year”.

In its latest El Nino/La Nina update, issued earlier this month, the WMO says the El Nino is likely to peak between October this year and January next year.

Zimbabwe has already been experiencing a drought and the intensifying of El Nino is only going to make the situation worse. With a majority of Zimbabwean farmers being subsistence farmers, they are going to be the hardest hit by the drought. In the past few years small scale farmers in the rural areas, have failed to grow enough maize to feed their families and this year, the situation is expected to be worse.

The 2015 harvest was forecast at 950,000 metric tons of maize, the staple, far less than the 1.8 million metric tons Zimbabwe’s people need. Neighboring Zambia and South Africa, from which Zimbabwe has imported maize in the past, also face dramatically lower harvests.

Zambian agriculture minister Given Lubinda said his country’s yield would drop 21 percent but it would still produce an export surplus of 876,000 metric tons. In a recent estimate, the WFP said crop failure rates in parts of South Africa’s maize belt had been over 50 percent. South Africa grows more than 40 percent of regional maize.

At least 600,000 people in Malawi also need food aid after their crops were washed away by massive flooding in January, the WFP said.

With a government that is struggling to pay civil servants, there is very little hope for assistance to those hit hard by the drought. Hopefully aid agencies such as the World Food Program will come to the assistance of those in the rural areas.

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