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Immediate Action is Needed as Southern Africa Grapples with Worsening Drought

April 22, 2024- Southern Africa is on the brink of a devastating hunger crisis as a relentless drought tightens its grip. El Niño has led to searing heat that led to massive crop failure causing water sources to dry up. As a result, millions of people in Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Zambia have been driven towards starvation. To highlight this crisis, CARE alongside the Human Science Research Council, FANRPAN, and Rural Women’s Assembly held a press conference on 22nd April 2024 to call for international donor support to combat the worsening crisis.

“The situation is dire and demands urgent and coordinated action to avert a catastrophe,” emphasized Matthew Pickard, CARE Southern Africa Regional Director. “We are particularly concerned by the impact of this emergency on women and girls who form the backbone of local communities. who have had their farms scorched by the intense sun. At the same time, the cholera outbreak affected Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe over countries leading to hundreds of deaths whilst recovering from four years of intense cyclones. We need to support affected communities already impacted by the drought  to avert disaster.”

In Malawi, El Nino has affected close to 4.4 million people due to below-normal rain and scorching temperatures. This caused maize, a staple food for many, to be severely affected across the nation. Additionally, other crops such as rice, groundnuts, and soya beans have suffered substantial losses, threatening food security and livelihoods. Forecasts predict a significant drop in crop yields and increased vulnerability among homes that depend on agriculture for sustenance.

Over 2.7 million Zimbabweans are in need due to prolonged dry spells resulting in complete crop failure in many areas. Government indications show that 26% of people in rural areas will have a cereal shortage, further worsening a dire hunger crisis there. The situation is compounded by economic stress and livestock losses even as the country reels from a cholera outbreak that led to over 560 fatalities. Livestock diseases and water scarcity have worsened this situation.

In Zambia, the drought has impacted 9.8 million people. Delayed rains and wilting crops led to a national disaster declaration in February. Food prices surged 45%, worsening hunger. 84 districts in 8 provinces are affected, impacting 14.8 million. A March assessment found alarming food insecurity: 76% with limited food stocks, 5.7% with none, and 75.7% resorting to severe coping mechanisms. Crop damage is 50-90%, and water scarcity has forced 30% to seek alternative sources. At the same time over 740 people have succumbed to Cholera in what has been identified as the deadliest outbreak the country has experienced.

To address the escalating crisis, CARE is launching a comprehensive response plan focused on providing essential assistance to affected communities. This includes support in food and nutrition provision, revenue generation recovery by promoting sustainable farming practices, provision of clean water and sanitation services to mitigate health risks, education, and protection by ensuring access to education for vulnerable groups and raising awareness about gender-based violence and protection mechanisms.

“Our immediate priority is to save lives and alleviate suffering,” added Matthew. “But we also recognize the need for long-term solutions to build resilience and address the underlying causes of vulnerability. We call upon donors and governments to support the scale-up of humanitarian assistance. The clock is ticking. Let’s act together to save lives in Southern Africa.”

Quotes from Speakers:

This is not just a climate shock. It’s a humanitarian crisis that is demanding immediate action. This crisis has disproportionately affected women and girls. We know that in such situations they’ll eat the least and the last because this is what happens in the household. They would travel longer distances in search of water and food which to some extent exposes them to Sexual and Gender Based Violence. – Chikwe Mbweeda – CARE Zambia Country Director

What we all know is that the agriculture sector is under immense threat from the impact of climate change. This has one fundamental challenge, the continent is now a net importer of food. What is the cost of that? At the current rate at which we are importing food, we spend 35 billion US Dollars. That is the cost of importing food and that is projected to increase to over 110 billion by 2025. – Dr. Tshilidzi Madzivhandila, FANRPAN CEO

A very interesting phenomenon that we are experiencing in South Africa is the occurrence of drought in some parts of the country, while you are dealing with floods in other parts of the country. and some observers are saying, if we don’t know what climate change looks like, we can start there. But also what we are experiencing is the increasing frequency of these occurrences of extreme weather events. – Dr. Litha Magingxa, President & CEO of the Agricultural Research Council of South Africa

We are suffering as rural women as I am talking now. I’m crying. I’m crying for my beloved rural women. They have nothing. they have nothing to eat. they have nothing even to feed their families. – Alice Kachere, Rural Women Assembly Malawi

We need action now, today it can’t wait. We’re living in a crisis that is very clear from what our speakers have said, and each of us has a role to play in supporting vulnerable families in this time of greatest need. Matthew Pickard, CARE Southern Africa Regional Director

Note to Editors

Images of drought impact in Zimbabwe can be viewed here

Virtual Press Conference recording can be accessed here
Passcode: #4e8f0jZ

  • CARE has been operating in Zimbabwe’s 10 provinces since 1992, implementing programs focused on Gender Equality including Education; Right to food, water, and nutrition; Climate change and adaptation; Humanitarian action; Health; and Women’s economic empowerment.
  • CARE’s lifesaving operations are ongoing in Masvingo through the Tayambuka (Prevailed over food insecurity challenge in a dignified way) project a comprehensive initiative funded by the USAID to address food insecurity and build resilience among vulnerable smallholder farmers in the Bikita District of Zimbabwe. The project targets 5,000 farmer households who are at risk of experiencing reduced crop yields and limited income opportunities due to the anticipated El Niño phenomenon.
  • The project takes a multifaceted approach to tackle these challenges. It combines in-kind food assistance with the implementation of Food for Assets (FFA) programs. The FFA programs focus on strengthening community physical and natural assets to enhance resilience and reduce vulnerabilities to future shocks and stresses.
  • CARE Malawi, established in 1998, transitioned from education and health projects to broader challenges, focusing on livelihood, food, and nutrition security across 17 districts in Malawi.
  • The flagship program, Titukulane, funded by USAID, aims to achieve sustainable food and nutrition security for vulnerable households in Mangochi and Zomba Districts, emphasizing income stability, nutrition, and resilience building, particularly for women and youth.
  • Titukulane’s strategy includes providing improved seeds, promoting climate-smart agriculture, investing in irrigation, supporting youth-led businesses, implementing Cash for Work initiatives, promoting Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs), and establishing local disaster preparedness plans. Additionally, CARE Malawi implements the Diversifying Resilience Approaches through Market Systems (DREAMS)-BHA project to address drought in Thyolo and Chiradzulu districts, focusing on river line and watershed management and promoting Maternal, Infant, and Young Child Nutrition (MIYCN) knowledge and practices.
  • CARE Zambia, operational since 1992, collaborates with various stakeholders to implement impactful projects addressing water, sanitation, climate change and humanitarian response, health, livelihoods, education, and gender equality.
  • Current operations include the Research for Health in Humanitarian Crises (R2HC) Project, cholera response initiatives, and a humanitarian crisis recovery project in Southern Province supporting disaster recovery efforts of floods affected populations.
  • Achievements include reducing cholera risk for 27,120 people and supporting 15,000 individuals with income-generating activities after floods.

For media inquiries, please contact:

David Mutua, CARE East Central, & Southern Africa Regional Communications Advisor: via: david.mutua@care.org

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