Zimbabwe: State of disaster declared as drought worsens

Zimbabwe has officially declared a national disaster due to a severe drought induced by the climatic phenomenon El Niño. President Emmerson Mnangagwa emphasized the urgent need for $2 billion in aid to support millions of citizens facing hunger as a result. The impact of the prolonged dry spell is devastating communities throughout southern Africa.

President Mnangagwa asserted during a press conference that no Zimbabwean should suffer or perish due to hunger. Consequently, he announced a nationwide state of disaster in response to the El Niño-induced drought. He cautioned that over 2.7 million people in the country will face food shortages this year due to insufficient rainfall. The projected grain harvest for the season is estimated to cover only half of the nation’s cereal needs.

El Niño, a natural climate pattern that emerged in mid-2023, typically elevates global temperatures for approximately a year. Currently, it is exacerbating wildfires and extreme heat worldwide. Zimbabwe now joins Malawi and Zambia in declaring drought a national disaster, enabling the government to access additional resources to tackle the crisis. The drought has also crippled electricity production in Zimbabwe, which heavily relies on hydroelectric power.

The latest El Niño, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), ranks among the five most severe on record. Its lingering effects are attributed to intensifying atmospheric heat trapped by greenhouse gases. While El Niño peaked in December, above-normal temperatures are expected to persist until May across most land areas.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that major food-producing regions in several southern African countries experienced only 80% of the average rainfall during the November-to-February summer season. January and February rainfall hit a 40-year low, exacerbating the crisis. Efforts are underway to mobilize resources and finalize a response plan, as highlighted by Zimbabwe’s UN resident coordinator, Edward Kallon. However, the repercussions of the drought extend beyond food insecurity, with cholera outbreaks and heightened malaria risk due to the use of unsafe water sources and anticipated flooding.

Furthermore, Zimbabwean millers have resorted to importing genetically modified maize from South Africa due to the inability to source grain from traditional suppliers in Zambia and Malawi. Yet, experts warn that such imports may drive up food prices, exacerbating the challenges faced by vulnerable populations already struggling to afford nutritious diets. Small-scale farmers in affected areas have already expressed their plight, grappling with failed crops and soaring food prices.

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