Africa in Fact Newsletter #52

Hippos stuck in a dried up channel in the Okavango Delta on the outskirts of Maun, Botswana in April 2024. The drought across southern Africa has been driven mostly by the El Niño weather pattern, not climate change, scientists said. Photo by Monirul Bhuiyan / AFP

With South Africans holding their collective breath, hoping their politicians will be the grownups in the room and form a viable government that, for once, will prioritise their citizens, it is difficult to pay attention to much else. Which is probably why an urgent press release, issued in Pretoria this week by the United Nations and a collective of NGOs, regional and national authorities, as well as several humanitarian and development partners, failed to receive the attention it deserved.

Their urgent call to action followed an extraordinary SADC summit earlier this year that launched an appeal for $5.5 million to provide “urgent lifesaving assistance, to help with recovery and long-term climate resilience”.

Letwin Mhande takes her turn to load an allocation of four buckets of water per family per day at a community run borehole in Epworth an informal settlement East of the Zimbabwe capital Harare, in May 2024. Photo by Jekesai Njikizana / AFP

The statement makes for grim reading. What is said is that more than 30 million vulnerable people across southern Africa, who already struggle daily with food insecurity, face further deprivation due to the severe drought caused by the El Niño phenomenon. People in Angola, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe have all been affected; Malawi, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe have declared a state of emergency. 


The effects of what the UN describes as a “historic” drought are also a reminder that the extreme weather events caused by the climate crisis are here to stay. El Niño, which began in 2023, has led to a 20% drop in the usual expected rainfall in the region and temperatures five degrees above average. 
“Rural communities we have met on the ground tell us they have never seen anything like this,” Reena Ghelani, the UN Climate Crisis Coordinator for the El Niño/La Niña response said. “Urgent support is needed now and at scale, to protect lives and livelihoods.” 

As the UN noted, the lack of rain has occurred at a crucial time for crop growing in a region where 70% of people depend on rainfed agriculture to survive. “El Niño might be ending buts its impacts are far from over,” Adeyinka Badejo, the deputy regional director for the World Food Programme in the region said. “Farmers in the hardest-hit countries have lost, on average, at least half their crops due to this drought, with the next harvest not expected until April next year.” 

The UN Assistant Secretary General, Ibrahima Cheikh Diong, said this week that the southern African drought was yet more evidence of the growing impact of climate disasters on the lives of the most vulnerable people. The UN has also pointed out that the window of opportunity to avert a large-scale humanitarian crisis was rapidly closing because communities were facing imminent harvest failures. 
Climate change, and the need to mitigate its effects and build human resilience across Africa to counter its effects, is an important area of focus for Good Governance Africa and Africa in Fact (AIF). 

Articles that have appeared in previous issues of  AIF on the subject can be found on our website Meanwhile, to read our current issue of AIF click the cover below.


Susan Russell
Editor, Africa in Fact

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