El Niño conditions during the 2015/16 planting season caused Southern Africa’s worst drought in 35 years, representing a second consecutive failed harvest. This created severe food and water shortages and compounded existing vulnerabilities in all humanitarian sectors. While governments led the response, the scale of needs overwhelmed national capacity. Five countries declared national emergencies: Lesotho (22 December 2015), Zimbabwe (04 February 2016), Swaziland (18 February 2016) and Malawi (13 April 2016). Mozambique declared a Red Alert (12 April 2016), while Madagascar issued a message of solidarity (26 August 2016); All called for urgent international assistance.
Members of the Southern Africa Regional Inter-Agency Standing Committee (RIASCO) deployed staff to the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC)’s El Niño Logistics and Coordination Team (established in May 2016) to provide technical assistance. On 26 July 2016 SADC declared a regional emergency and launched a 13-country, US$2.4 billion appeal to assist 41 million El Niño-affected Southern Africans. In support of SADC’s appeal, RIASCO launched its Action Plan on 27 July, which was revised in December 2016. The Action Plan prioritized seven countries: Angola, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.
The Action Plan was based on three pillars: a humanitarian pillar, setting out immediate needs in the seven priority countries; a resilience pillar undertaken in parallel to humanitarian efforts; and a macro-economic pillar, which sets out policy options for governments to address the long-term impacts. The plan requested $1.3 billion to provide humanitarian assistance (pillar 1) for 13.8 million people up to April 2017, of which $900 million has been received (70 per cent).
Critical funds from international donors including USAID, DFID, ECHO, CERF and the Governments of China and Japan enabled a significant humanitarian response, especially in stabilizing regional food security. National and international NGOs, as well as the International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) and local Red Cross societies, played an indispensable role in the response. With the concerted efforts of governments and the humanitarian community, more than 10.6 million people were reached with food assistance at the peak of the response (January to April 2017). More than 360,000 children under age 5 with acute malnutrition were admitted for treatment, and 1.5 million people were provided with safe water. Coordination among various partners enabled the provision of emergency education programming, such as school meals and life-saving messaging on hygiene practices. Education and Protection partners collaboratively achieved significant results for 451,000 children, demonstrating the key role the sectors play in promoting resilience and disaster risk reduction (DRR). With hopes pinned on an agricultural recovery, more than 1.6 million drought-affected households were reached with programmes to boost agricultural production.
With climate change predicted to bring more frequent and intense natural disasters to the region, the RIASCO Action Plan included a range of practical options to build resilience, based on the idea that while droughts cannot be prevented from occurring, they should not result in humanitarian emergencies. These options included the development of sound national policies and strategies, expanded and strengthened social safety nets, promotion of climate smart agriculture, reinforced early warning systems and improved management of water and other natural resources. These must be combined with solid risk management and fiscal instruments at national and regional levels. A $150 million World Bank project in Botswana to protect water sources is a current example; as well as the recent availability of longer term disaster risk insurance products.