Severe drought in Southern Africa puts millions at risk

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

The situation in Southern Africa, specifically in nations such as Zimbabwe, continues to worsen as a severe drought has left millions hungry. Scientists have stated that this is down to extreme weather conditions which have become more frequent, straining the region in the process.

The situation is so tense that aid workers who have been handing out basic necessities such as cooking oil, have been forced to give out small quantities which means that for those at risk, each drop counts.


The United States government has been actively involved in ensuring that aid is sent to the region but aid workers will be pulling back from the region, leaving many civilians in the lurch as the drought persists.

USAID, the American aid agency, has been backing the United Nations’ World Food Program with the express aim of mitigating the situation. As a result of this initiative roughly 2,000 people were given ration in the form of cooking oil, sorghum, peas and other basic necessities in the Mangwe district of Southern Zimbabwe for example.

The drought has been threatening people in the Southern region of Africa since the end of 2023 and has put roughly 2.7 million people at risk in rural Zimbabwe alone.

The extreme conditions and incessant heat have destroyed crops grown by people independently to meet their needs during what is meant to be the rainy season.

Considering the dire conditions people find themselves in, aid organisations have been forced to take notice and attempt to help.

The stark reality is that the people of the region can no longer depend on the weather and grow crops effectively to meet their needs, which raises a larger question about their future as well.

The drought is not limited to Zimbabwe alone as Malawi and Zambia find themselves in an identical situation. The crisis is said to be at its peak, which has forced both Zambia and Malawi to declare the drought a national disaster.

Mozambique and Madagascar towards the east have also been engulfed by the drought, leaving many helpless, while Botswana and Angola towards the west are not doing any better either.

The region has been witnessing extreme conditions for some time now and has been subjected to either too much rain or none at all. As much is evident from the fact that one year ago, the entire region was flooded and battered by tropical storms. In the span of just one year, the cycle has shifted in such a manner that the entire region is devoid of rain when it needs it the most.

Scientists have said that this vicious cycle of extreme weather conditions has stripped the region of its ability to grow food and make use of water resources which are critical for the survival of its people, making them the most vulnerable population in the world.

Both young and old people were seen queuing for aid in Mangwe, some with carts, others with wheelbarrows to take whatever they can get their hands on.

For people like the 39-year-old Zanyiwe Ncube, taking care of her two children and niece has been a mammoth task as the failure of her crops means that she won’t be able to collect food for them or make some money selling what is left.

The seasonal monitor of the World Food Program revealed that February this year was the driest ever recorded, which is an insight into how bad the situation must be for the average rural citizen who is dependent entirely on the weather for sustenance.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, eastern and southern Africa find themselves at the mercy of a cycle of extreme weather conditions, oscillating between storms/floods and severe droughts since the past one year.

These have been termed as “overlapping crises” which have strained the nations in the region to the brink. As a result, 9 million people, half of them children, are at risk in Malawi, 6 million in Zambia, half of whom are children, are going hungry in Southern Africa alone, according to UNICEF.

This makes up 30% of Zambia’s population and half of Malawi’s, which means significant portions of their populations could be taken out by this crisis.

UNICEF’s Regional Director, Eva Kadilli, stated the following, “Distressingly, extreme weather is expected to be the norm in eastern and southern Africa in the years to come.”
Even though most observers readily blame global warming and the role of humanity in it as the root cause of this crisis, experts have suggested that a naturally occurring climatic phenomenon called an El Niño has been warming parts of the Pacific over periods of two-seven years.

This phenomenon has the ability to affect the weather of the globe in a multitude of ways and in Southern Africa, this has meant that that there has been very little or no rain what so ever.

In Mangwe, the situation is far worse as even drought resistant crops such as sorghum and pearl millet have not been able to brave the exceptionally arid conditions this year.
The Director of the World Food Program for Zimbabwe, Francesca Erdelmann, clarified that even though the harvest was quite bad last year, it has been even worse this time, which has left most people in the region with no reprieve.

The region is used to being strained during the initial months of each year as the time to harvest crops continues to get closer but this year there is no possibility of recovering as the harvest has been destroyed by the heat.

Joseph Nleya, a traditional leader in Mangwe who is 77 years old, stated the following, “Dams have no water, riverbeds are dry and boreholes are few. We were relying on wild fruits, but they have also dried up.”

This has forced people to cross into Botswana in search of better prospects and some have been pushed into criminal activity out of sheer hunger and helplessness.

What is even more surprising is that authorities in Africa were warned by aid agencies last year that a wide spread disaster such as this one was coming their way.

The situation has forced leaders such as President Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi to ask for $200 million in humanitarian assistance while President Hakainde Hichilema announced that in Zambia 1 million out of the 2.2 million hectares in totality, which are used to cultivate corn have been ruined completely.

The current estimate of 2.7 million citizens being at risk is seen as just the tip of the iceberg as the authorities are conducting a nation-wide crop assessment which is expected to push the number sky high, according to the World Food Program.

Zimbabwe, southern Malawi, Mozambique and Madagascar now understand that due to the failure of this year’s crops, they will not be able to feed themselves well into 2025. This means that this year and the beginning of the next one will be extremely strenuous for the region and could result in famine if considerable resources are not secured from international bodies in the form of aid.

Going by the information given by the USAID’s Famine Early Warning System, 20 million people will be needing aid in the form of food for the first few months of this year alone, highlighting how monumental the task is going to be.

To compound the issue, multiple ongoing crises at the global stage mean that aid organisations are working with a limited amount of resources. Thus, many in Southern Africa will not receive the help they need. The devolving situation internationally has also meant that many nations have cut down their humanitarian funding to redirect resources towards other objectives.

As the situation continues to go from bad to worse in Southern Africa, it is yet to be seen how regional governments and the international fraternity plan on avoiding the deaths of thousands, if not more, due to a widespread famine.

George Henry
George Henry
George Henry, a distinguished graduate of Columbia University, pursued his passion in Economics with outstanding academic achievements. George found his calling in journalism, aiming to raise awareness regarding geopolitical and socioeconomic issues. He is recognized for having a keen interest in international geopolitics, sports and women's rights. To reach George, you can email


Related Articles