Editorial Comment: Move food aid quickly to avert starvation

The evidence is clear for all to see, confirming Sadc climate experts’ forecast in September last year that the region will receive normal to below normal rainfall.

The 19th Southern Africa Regional Climate Outlook Forum held in Kinshasa, DRC, from August 26 to 28, 2015 presented a consensus outlook for the 2015/2016 rainfall season over the Sadc region.

SARCOF-19 seasonal forecast showed that the region was likely to receive normal to below normal rainfall for the period October to December 2015 and January to March 2016.

It, however, noted that most of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), northern Angola, southern part of Tanzania, north-eastern Zambia, northern Malawi, northern Mozambique, Seychelles and eastern Madagascar, are more likely to receive normal to above-normal rainfall. Only the northern-most Tanzania was more likely to receive normal to above normal rainfall in October-November-December.

In simpler terms, normal to below normal rainfall means much of Sadc will receive little rainfall thus suffer a drought.

The rainfall pattern in Zimbabwe since October confirms that negative prognosis. Most parts of the country have not received any rainfall and farmers have not gone beyond land preparation.

We report elsewhere in this issue that people in Matabeleland North and South are severely food insecure after they didn’t harvest much last year. They are facing what looks like worse food shortages this year as their crops wilted on germination or never germinated at all amid high temperatures and clear skies.

The national weather service is also projecting a more prolonged mid-season dry spell that normally ends mid-January, but is likely to stretch for more weeks this year.

“Things don’t look right and we’re just hoping that it’ll rain soon. Only a few whose fields are on upper land had planted while those in old farms have nothing that germinated because of lack of rain. We don’t know what we’ve done wrong as a community,” said Chief Shana of Jambezi in Hwange district.

“Our biggest fear now is how the vulnerable are going to survive. We just hope the government will continue distributing grain so that at least they pull through.”

Chief Masuku from Matobo district said his area only received rains in November and hunger is forcing the most vulnerable of his subjects to beg for food. “People are coming to my homestead everyday begging for food but I’ve nothing to give them,” he said.

“It has become difficult to survive in this part of the country. People survive on begging and the unfortunate thing is that literally everyone is starving.”

The food insecurity in these places and in other marginal areas is indeed an issue of grave concern. This looks like a second successive drought for south-western Zimbabwe. It would present a more challenging humanitarian situation beyond the estimated 1,5 million who needed food aid until March this year.

The country has so far less than 75 percent of the usual rainfall. Even if the rains come now, the precipitation will not be useful in salvaging the crops already on the ground but will only be useful in filling up reservoirs.

The government has recognised the challenge and has mobilised $260 million to import between 500,000 and 700,000 tonnes of maize to feed the hungry. This is a substantial sum of money to help in averting starvation.

It is sad that the government has to spend so much amid the prevailing economic challenges. The outlay creates more pressure on the already stretched fiscus but as the Minister of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development, Joseph Made said, it is an expense that the government cannot overlook so has to bear.

“In the meantime,” said Minister Made, “we are moving grain to deficit areas and the number of vulnerable people is increasing. The most affected areas are Matabeleland South, parts of Midlands, Masvingo and southern parts of Manicaland.

“We have also allowed millers to import grain. Millers have been given permits to import 1,2 million tonnes of maize in the past 12 months but they have only imported 450,000 tonnes. No individual company has been stopped from applying for a permit to import maize but the permits are approved and there are certain things we consider before approving the applications.”

Considering that this year’s drought is a regional one, it is likely to be more expensive, and take longer for the emergency food aid to arrive. Last season, all of the food was imported from Zambia, but with our neighbour also affected by the dry spell, they might not have surplus to sell to us.

It is probably because of that realisation that the government has mobilised the money this early so that all logistics can be put in place well before normal harvest time of March that was covered by last year’s import commitment.

Therefore, we anticipate a seamless transition from the 2015 emergency plan to this year’s.

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