A record 45 million people in Southern Africa, mostly women and children, face severe food insecurity caused by drought, flooding, and economic disarray, the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) said on Thursday.
“This hunger crisis is on a scale we’ve not seen before and the evidence shows it’s going to get worse,” said Lola Castro, WFP regional director for Southern Africa, in a statement.
Food insecurity defined by the US Department of Agriculture is the lack of consistent access to enough food for an active and healthy life.
The UN agency warned it secured only $205m of the $489m it requires, saying families across the region were already skipping meals, taking children out of school, selling off precious assets, and falling into debt to stave off agricultural losses.
With temperatures rising at twice the global average and most of its food produced by subsistence farmers entirely dependent on increasingly unreliable rains, Southern Africa has had just one normal growing season in the last five years, WFP said.
Low growth, rising population, drought and floods have combined to worsen food insecurity in the region.
“If we don’t receive the necessary funding, we’ll have no choice but to assist fewer of those most in need, and with less,” Castro said.
The worst-hit countries by the drought were Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Nearly half of Zimbabwe’s 15 million people live in a state of chronic food insecurity, according to UN figures.
Wildlife has also suffered, with more than 200 elephants having starved to death in Zimbabwe in just three months last year.
Twenty-percent of the population in drought-stricken Lesotho and about 10 percent of Namibians are also suffering from food insecurity.
In October, Zambia’s Red Cross flagged that drought had left an estimated 2.3 million people facing “severe food insecurity”.
Zambia was long known as the region’s breadbasket, but recurring drought has cut water reserves at the hydroelectric dam of Kariba, the main source of energy.
Across the region, women and children are bearing the brunt of the lack of food.
Meanwhile, experts forecast more hot-and-dry weather in the coming months, auguring another poor harvest.
The situation could decline further as the dry season may last longer than usual, affecting the annual cereal harvest in April.
The WFP plans to provide lean-season assistance to 8.3 million people in areas grappling with crisis levels of hunger.
It called on the international community to accelerate both emergency assistance to millions of desperately hungry people in Southern Africa, and long-term investment to enable the region’s vulnerable to withstand the worsening impacts of climate change.
In response to the crisis, the European Commission on Thursday said it is mobilising a humanitarian aid package of $25.4m to support emergency food needs and vulnerable people in eSwatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Zambia and Zimbabwe.