Partners Brace To Respond To Worst Droughts In Southern Africa

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Partners Brace To Respond To One Of The Worst Droughts In Southern Africa
Partners Brace To Respond To One Of The Worst Droughts In Southern Africa

Johannesburg – The southern African region is experiencing one of its worst droughts in decades, and millions are facing extreme food insecurity and water shortages, amidst a growing climate crisis, fueled by the El Niño weather phenomenon.

In a recent meeting between Reena Ghelani, UN Assistant Secretary General and Climate Crisis Coordinator for the El Niño/La Niña response; Menghestab Haile, World Food Programme RD; and Ibrahima Cheick Diong, UN Assistant Secretary General and African Risk Capacity (ARC) Group Director General, stakeholders discussed the response to the drought emergency to minimise the impact on lives and livelihoods of the most vulnerable.

The drought is yet more evidence of the impact of climate change, but it is exacerbated by El Niño, a weather pattern of unusually warm water on the surface of the Pacific Ocean that is leading to higher temperatures and lower rainfall across southern Africa. This episode, recorded as one of the five strongest in history, has also led to devastating floods in other parts of the continent. In Southern Africa, about 20 million people are now facing crisis levels of acute hunger because of the El Niño-induced drought.
‘The farmers I met in Mozambique and Zambia told me that this drought is one of the worst they’ve experienced,” says Reena Ghelani. “For many of them, there will be nothing to harvest.

That is why we need to provide food and cash assistance urgently. At the same time, the burden of climate change on these countries calls for a more comprehensive and sustainable approach to these recurring crises.”

Climate extremes such as droughts and floods are a significant threat to the region’s economy where more than 70 per cent of the population sustains their livelihoods through farming activities. Stakeholders in Africa’s climate landscape recognise the southern African drought as a serious risk to lives and livelihoods.

‘Once again, we are seeing the impact of extreme weather events on the lives and livelihoods of the most vulnerable, and we have to do all that is in our power to cushion this impact’, highlighted Ibrahima Cheick Diong. ‘Our hearts go out to the affected governments and their people as they work to comprehend the true extent of this disaster. Drought conditions are widespread across the southern African region and communities are facing extreme hunger, limited water supply and malnutrition, not to mention the loss of income from their agricultural activities, he continued.

Before the start of the 2023/24 agricultural season, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe, all countries severely affected by this crisis, made the critical decision to participate in ARC risk pools for drought. Based on early projections from ARC’s season monitoring tools, all four countries are likely to receive insurance payouts, and this will be confirmed at the end of the season. The risk pools, run by ARC Limited, the insurance affiliate of the ARC Group responsible for risk pooling and transfer, avail timely funds to facilitate early response to a disaster event.

‘The drought is hitting at a time of significant protracted unmet needs, with alarming food insecurity and malnutrition levels, and funding shortages that have stalled humanitarian activities,’ says Menghesab Haile. ‘The drought has decimated livelihoods across southern Africa. The El Niño weather phenomenon serves as a poignant reminder of the climate crisis – and how urgent it is to scale up investment in activities that build resilience. Communities must be empowered with climate adaptation skills that will enable them to mitigate, reduce, and absorb the effects of climate shocks.’

As part of the ARC Replica programme, an initiative that allows humanitarian actors to take out insurance on behalf of a country, Replica partners for the four countries: the World Food Programme, StartNetwork and UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) are also likely to receive a payout. Not only does this programme complement other response activities from the countries, but it goes a long way towards increasing the resources to reach vulnerable populations.

In preparation for the end of the agricultural season, ARC, together with the in-country Technical Working Groups of the four countries, are in the process of finalising the Final Implementation Plans (FIP), a document that clearly outlines the use of an ARC payout ahead of the end of the season. This is part of the ARC contingency planning process initiated before the start of a season.

‘This is a region we have assisted with significant drought payouts in the past. In 2022, we paid out $14.2 million to Malawi’s Replica partner, the World Food Programme; $5.3 million to Zambia and $1,4 million to Zimbabwe’, said Lesley Ndlovu, CEO of ARC Limited. ‘The impact of disaster events goes beyond the immediate socio-economic costs and in the absence of instruments such as ARC, a disaster such as drought can easily trap vulnerable populations into perpetual cycles of poverty.

It is our honour to work closely with the four countries’ Disaster Risk Management structures and contribute to their resilience-building efforts. It is moments like these when we can demonstrate the true impact of our work.’

This crisis underscores the importance of instruments such as the ARC solution in building resilience and facilitating recovery efforts. It also emphasises the value of collaborations between partners to support Africa’s resilience-building efforts.

ARC, as a specialised Agency of the African Union, works with AU member states to strengthen their preparedness to respond to such threats. The ARC mechanism combines four critical elements of disaster preparedness: early warning, contingency planning, risk pooling and risk transfer to create a powerful value proposition that has proven effective in strengthening a government’s ability to manage disaster events.

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