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UN agencies call for urgent action on climate change in southern Africa

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Current Situation

There are more than 11 million people now experiencing crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity (IPC Phases 3 and 4) in nine Southern African countries1 due to deepening drought and climate crisis. If urgent humanitarian action is not taken, the number will likely rise in the coming months, according to the Regional Interagency Standing Committee Africa (RIASCO).

In Zimbabwe, 3.58 million people are in IPC Phase 3 (Crisis) or Phase 4 (Emergency). In Zambia, 2.3 million people are currently estimated to be in IPC Phase 3 or worse. In southern Angola, 1.6 million people are impacted by the drought with at least 562,000 in IPC Phase 3 or worse. By September 2019, 1.6 million people in Mozambique faced difficulties in accessing food as a result of agricultural losses, internal displacement and destruction of infrastructure and livelihoods stemming from two cyclones that devastated in the country in March and April 2019. In southern Madagascar, 916,201 people are facing severe acute food insecurity.

Climate shocks and climate change. Climate change is a central force driving a continued rise in global hunger, with both droughts and flooding negatively impacting food production. Evidence shows children suffer disproportionately from the impact of climate change. In fragile states and low-income communities, including in Southern Africa, the poor and marginalized will be most affected. Persons in low-income quintiles of society – and particularly children, women and the elderly who are less capable of coping with the negative effects of climate change – will be the most severely affected.

• Western and central parts of the region are experiencing poor rainfall and bad drought conditions, with some parts of Southern Africa facing the lowest rates of rainfall since 1981. Namibia received its lowest recorded rainfall in 35 years leaving 40 percent of its 2.4 million people characterised as severely food insecure.In drought-affected parts of the region, a growing number of traditional community water points have dried out or do not meet the minimum water demand, resulting in household water insecurity, lack of water in institutions (including schools and health facilities), depletion of watering points for agriculture and livestock which in turn increases unplanned migration of people and livestock. The region has had only two favourable agricultural seasons since 2012 and many areas have yet to fully recover from the devastating impact of the 2015-2016 El Niño season.

• At the same time, the eastern part of the region saw unprecedented back-to-back cyclones (Idai and Kenneth) impacting Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Comoros and southern Tanzania.

• Southern Africa is currently at the forefront of the climate crisis and facing the consequences of it first-hand. Mitigation (reduced emissions) and adaptation (increased resilience) are required to reduce the impact of climate change in the coming years. A multisectoral and joint approach between UN Agencies with a focus on immediate life-saving response, as well as longer term systems strengthening is needed to address the complexities of climate change at the country level.

Access to water. In drought-affected parts of the region, a growing number of traditional community water points have dried out or do not meet the minimum water demand, resulting in household water insecurity, lack of water in institutions (including schools and health facilities), depletion of watering points for agriculture and livestock which in turn increases unplanned migration of people and livestock.

Lake Kariba, a critical water resource for Zambia and Zimbabwe, is only 16 per cent full at present, down 7.5 meters from the same time last year. In Zimbabwe, the fragile economic situation and cuts to electricity have impacted access to water, curtailing the ability of local authorities to pump water and procure water treatment chemicals for urban areas while in rural areas only 30 per cent of rural water sources have water, are functioning and are protected.

Nutrition. While Southern Africa does not report the critical levels of acute malnutrition seen in East Africa, any incremental increase in acute malnutrition, is an additional stress on the individual child and household. It also presents a stress on health system, which are often poorly equipped to deal with increasing numbers of acutely malnourished children. In addition, considering the high burden of stunting already present across Southern Africa, children that are both stunted and wasted have the highest risk of death compared to those who are stunted or wasted alone.

• In Zimbabwe, national global acute malnutrition (GAM) has risen to 3.6 per cent, up from 2.5 per cent in 2018, and eight districts have GAM rates above 5 per cent, which is rarely seen in Zimbabwe and signifies a deteriorating situation. Doctors in Zimbabwe have been on strike for the previous two months, which has led to an ongoing human resources crisis and may lead to additional challenges for the management of children with acute malnutrition or other resources if no urgent solutions are found.

• In Mozambique, an estimated 67,500 children require treatment for malnutrition, including 6,500 for severe acute malnutrition (SAM). More than 250 cases of pellagra (vitamin B3 deficiency) have been reported in Sofala province, which was hardest hit by Cyclone Idai.

• In Huíla and Cunene, in the south of Angola, between 70 and 80 per cent of the population are currently affected by food insecurity with increasing numbers of children identified as acutely malnourished through screening and programme admission data.

• Acute malnutrition continues to be of concern in the most drought affected districts of southern Madagascar, with 17,800 children treated for SAM with UNICEF support in 2019 to date, compared to 8,643 during the same time in 2018, largely due to a scale up in outreach screening and referral activities. An additional threat is the likely pipeline break for commodities for treating moderately malnourished children, which will likely lead to an increase in the numbers of severely malnourished children.

• A continuing challenge across Southern Africa relates to the lack of representative quality and up to date nutrition information in the most vulnerable communities and most drought-affected areas. This limitsthe ability to highlight the severity of the situation in terms of nutrition outcomes and can mean that a deteriorating situation may not be recognized in time to protect children from becoming malnourished. Representative and quality nutrition assessments in the most affected areas are key to support evidence-based targeted and timely responses.

Agriculture and livelihoods. The aggregate regional cereal output in 2019, including a production forecast for the winter wheat crops, to be harvested from October, is estimated to be nearly seven per cent below the 2018 production. The largest yearly decreases were registered in Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Production of maize, the main staple in the region, is estimated at nearly 10 per cent below the previous five-year average. Livestock rearing and production—a key coping and resilience pathway and a contributor to national GDP in Southern Africa—is also being impacted by reduced water availability and degradation of pastures, as well as increased outbreak of transboundary animal diseases.3 In the southern region of Angola, the drought has affected 2.2 million cattle and 1.2 million sheep, leading to the death of 27,767 animals. The continued presence of the Fall Armyworm (FAW) and Cassava Brown Streak Disease, a new disease reported for the first time in northern Zambia, are presenting additional risks to crop production in the region. Macro-economic volatility, including high levels of inflation, rising unemployment and eroded household purchasing power have further compounded the high levels of food insecurity in several countries.

Health. During 2019, climate shocks have exacerbated outbreaks of measles in several countries across the Southern African region, including Angola (3,127 cases with 64 deaths, of which 73 per cent are from Lunda Sul, and 17 per cent from Moxico, with 85 laboratory confirmed as of 30 June 2019); Comoros (132 cases with no deaths, 56 confirmed by 11 August 2019) and Madagascar (a total of 202,692 cases with 966 deaths reported from 7 October 2018 to 10 Sept 2019). Namibia is facing an expansion of transmission of hepatitis E and has been experiencing an outbreak since 2017 in informal settlements with poor access to safe water and sanitation, with 6,527 cases and 55 deaths (including 1,585 confirmed cases) reported by 6 October 2019. These countries also have a significant HIV burden. Food insecurity and resulting malnutrition in people living with HIV, especially children, is associated with increased morbidity and mortality.

During the 2016/17 drought, a reduction in outpatient consultations and admissions in some countries of Southern Africa like Lesotho, (including for deliveries) were reported due to closure of health facilities as water was depleted, leaving communities without access to critical health services. Approximately 135/404 health districts in Angola, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Eswatini and Zimbabwe reported increased caseloads resulting from upsurges of diarrhoea, pneumonia and malaria, which put pressure on health facilities (RIASCO 2017). Outbreaks of waterborne diseases occurred against the backdrop of severe water shortages resulting from the drought.