Donors and Southern African governments must act swiftly, collaboratively, and generously in responding to the South African Development Community’s (SADC) announcement of a regional drought emergency triggered by El Niño, warn Oxfam, Save the Children and Care.
In a statement, SADC Council approved a ‘Declaration of the Regional Drought Disaster.’ Approximately 28 - 30 million people in Southern Africa now face severe levels of hunger and food insecurity that, if no action is taken, could rise quickly to 49 million.
Essential life-saving crops have failed after at least two consecutive bad harvests, driven this year by a ‘super’ El Niño, which has resulted in erratic, unpredictable weather, reduced or no rainfall in many areas, and flash flooding in others.
“SADC’s declaration of a regional emergency must be a clarion call for donors, national governments and the humanitarian community to act faster,” said Save the Children’s East and Southern Africa Regional Director, David Wright.
“The current El Niño is now the strongest on record, leaving millions in the path of severe droughts and destructive flooding which threaten the lives of families and children across the world. Without help, many children face hunger, disease, and futures deprived of the opportunities provided by education and protection.”
While the strength of El Niño is set to decrease over the first part of 2016, its full force of its impact of people’s lives will be felt over the coming months.
Oxfam’s Daniel Sinnathamby said that “although a lot of work is already underway to ensure that affected people, especially women and children, can access enough food over the coming weeks and months, much more must be done because the crisis threatens to overwhelm both governments’ ability to respond and people’s ability to cope.”
“This current phenomenon is a strong sign of what we can expect from a climate-changed world - we need to meet people’s immediate needs but we must address the longer-term issues which have made men, women and children in Southern Africa chronically vulnerable,” he warned.
SADC’s announcement included the approval of a regional logistics team to coordinate the immediate response as well as longer-term calls to action for its member states to scale up technological development for agriculture, energy and water to help mitigate the impact of climate change on the region’s poorest people and help communities become more resilient to future weather events and shocks, including building up social services and scaling-up programs to help minimize the impact of climate change on the region’s poorest people.
“It is increasingly difficult for people to access affordable staple foods across the region, therefore these measures are vital so that more people are able to cope, and ultimately survive,” added Sinnathamby.
CARE’s East, Central and Southern Africa Regional Director, Emma Naylor-Ngugi, reiterates, “As a result of climate change, extreme weather events such as El Niño are having an even greater impact on poor and marginalized communities in Southern Africa, CARE is especially concerned about the impact of the crisis on women and girls. Increasingly families are skipping meals and eating wild fruits to get by.”
Oxfam, Save the Children and Care call for urgent donor intervention to address the imminent crisis in the region, and for national governments to play a critical role to ensure that the most vulnerable are able to access humanitarian relief to save lives now.