More than 52 million people in 18 countries across southern, eastern and central Africa are facing up to crisis levels of hunger as a result of weather extremes, compounded by poverty and conflict.
Some areas are facing a second extreme drought in four years and worse than that sparked by El Nino in 1981.
In the South, parts of Zimbabwe have had their lowest rainfall since 1981 which has helped push more than 5.5m people into extreme food insecurity. Zambia’s rich maize-growing area has been decimated and exports are now banned; 2.3m people there are food insecure. The situation is worsening including in Angola, Malawi, Mozambique, Madagascar, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. There are reports of farmer suicides in South Africa.
Drought has also hit the East and Horn of Africa particularly Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia. At the same time, record-breaking temperatures in the Indian Ocean have dumped ultra-heavy rainfalls into Kenya and South Sudan, causing flash-flooding, especially along major river arteries. South Sudan has declared a state of emergency with more than 900,000 people hit by floods.
In Africa, extreme weather events have hit many countries already suffering from ongoing conflict. Across the continent, 7.6 million people were displaced by conflict in the first six months of 2019, and another 2.6 million by extreme weather. In the Horn, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan have simultaneously faced over 750 000 people displaced by conflict and 350 000 displaced by extreme weather.
Scientists have demonstrated how climate change is increasing the frequency or severity of many extreme weather events. Over the last decade, these 18 African countries have collectively suffered average annual losses of $700m from climate-related disasters– and this is without counting the cost of these latest crises, says Oxfam. However, there has been minimal progress globally in raising funds specifically to address loss and damage from climate change. Africa contributes less than 5% of total global emissions but is suffering some of the most severe impacts of the climate crisis.
“We are witnessing millions of already poor people facing extreme food insecurity and exhausting their reserves because of compounding climate shocks that hit already vulnerable communities hardest. They need help urgently. The scale of the drought devastation across southern Africa is staggering,” said Oxfam’s Southern Africa Regional Director Nellie Nyang'wa.
“In western Kenya, the crop harvest is 25% down and in parts of Somalia up to 60%. Livestock in many rural areas is emaciated and milk production is down. Cereal prices in some areas have rocketed up to five-year highs, pricing out poorer people. Nearly 7m people in the region are living just below the catastrophic hunger line,” said Oxfam’s Horn, East and Central Africa regional director Lydia Zigomo. “It is a vicious cycle where poor and marginalized communities, mostly women and girls, are more exposed to the climate crisis and less able to cope and recover from its harm.”
Mithika Mwenda, chief executive of Oxfam’s partner PACJA, said “Communities at the frontline of this climate crisis are overstretched and may be facing potential annihilation. But local people are doing everything that can to overcome the challenge. There are unprecedented levels of organization happening where governments have let local people down.”
“We’re seeing people trying to cope with shifting seasons and erratic rainfall by finding new ways to make a living off-farm. Women are coming together to pool their resources through small internal lending communities, buying food together, growing sweet potatoes instead of maize – all without outside support. Local people have the solutions but what they lack is resources, especially funding.
“Our leaders should look to support these community solutions to build up people’s resilience to climate change. For 35 years AMCEN has been a very important platform with impactful policies that have helped to create awareness of environmental sustainability. It needs to move away now from policy-making to policy implementation.”
Oxfam is currently reaching more than 7 million people in ten of the hardest-hit countries with food and water support, and long-term development projects to help people cope better with climate-related shocks. Oxfam plans to reach 10% of those most in need in these ten countries and is trying to raise $65m to do so.