The UN World Food Programme (WFP) is warning that a record 45 million people in the 16-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) are facing growing hunger following repeated drought, widespread flooding and economic disarray.
Southern Africa is in the grips of a severe drought, as climate change wreaks havoc in impoverished countries already struggling to cope with extreme natural disasters, such as Cyclone Idai which devastated Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi in 2019.
Zimbabwe, once the breadbasket of southern Africa, is experiencing its worst economic crisis in a decade, marked by soaring inflation and shortages of food, fuel, medicines and electricity.
Bread now costs 20 times what it cost six months ago. High food prices are forcing families to eat less, skip meals, take children out of school, sell off precious assets and fall into a vicious cycle of debt.
“This hunger crisis is on a scale we’ve not seen before and the evidence shows it’s going to get worse,” the WFP’s Regional Director for Southern Africa, Lola Castro, said in a statement.
The UN agency plans to provide “lean season” assistance to 8.3 million people grappling with “crisis” or “emergency” levels of hunger in eight of the hardest-hit countries, which include Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Madagascar, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) and Malawi.
To date, WFP has secured just $205 million of the $489 million required for this assistance and has been forced to resort heavily to internal borrowing to ensure food reaches those in need, it said.
In December, the UN said it was procuring food assistance for 4.1 million Zimbabweans, a quarter of the population of a country where shortages are being exacerbated by runaway inflation and climate-induced drought.
“Zimbabwe is in the throes of its worst hunger emergency in a decade, with 7.7 million people – half the population – seriously food insecure,” the agency said.
In Zambia and drought-stricken Lesotho, 20% of the population faces a food crisis, as do 10% of Namibians.
Castro said that if the agency does not receive the necessary funding, it will have no choice but to assist fewer of those most in need and with less.
WFP’s said its scale-up to reach more than 4 million people across the country hinges on receiving adequate funding for this major logistical undertaking, adding that it can take up to three months for funding commitments to become food on people’s tables.
With input by WFP and agencies.