Drought Brings Fiscal Problems, Humanitarian Need
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While drought continues to threaten food security and livelihoods throughout southern Africa and the Horn of Africa, some areas have seen increased rainfall in recent weeks, according to the latest FEWS Net Global Weather Hazards Summary.

Moderate to heavy rainfall occurred in the eastern and southern parts of Ethiopia, northern and south-central areas of Somalia, and the Lake Victoria region of southwestern Kenya and eastern Uganda. This precipitation could help alleviate moisture deficits, replenish the soil, and benefit upcoming cropping activities. In southern Africa, unusual increases in rainfall were seen in Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe in March, and moderate to heavy rainfall was seen over the past week in southern Tanzania, northern Malawi, northern and central Mozambique, and central South Africa.

However, the rainfall season in southern Africa is ending during the next week, and the report predicts a return of suppressed rains. Over the past 90 days, moderate to large seasonal rainfall deficits have been reported in Angola, western Namibia, eastern Zambia, southern Malawi, western and southern Mozambique, southern Madagascar, and eastern and central South Africa. These deficits, exacerbating last year’s poor precipitation, have led to permanently wilted crops, reductions in planted areas, widespread livestock deaths, and reduced water availability in many areas of the region.

Similarly, the report also points out that despite the recent increase in rainfall, below average precipitation has persisted in some other areas of the Horn of Africa, specifically central and southwestern Ethiopia, Kenya, and some areas of Uganda. If these deficits continue in the coming weeks, water available for pastoral and agricultural activities in these areas will be substantially reduced.

The ongoing drought has combined with falling commodity prices to create serious fiscal and humanitarian problems, according to recent reports from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Economist. The IMF article reports that Swaziland has lost 30 percent of its trade revenues due to economic slowdown in South Africa, one of its major trading partners; this slowdown has been driven in part by South Africa’s drought conditions. In Burkina Faso, a shorter rainy season has led to restricted water use and has impacted the production of cotton, one of the country’s major crops. Combined with lower cotton prices, this slowing production has put the country under more fiscal pressure, says Finance Minister Rosine Sori-Coulibaly.

The Economist also gives an indication of how the drought may impact regional trade. According to the article, Malawi relies on South Africa and Zambia for maize imports during times of food scarcity, but with these countries facing their own maize shortfalls, trade to Malawi could be lower than usual. Many countries in the region have reached out for international aid to help prevent widespread hunger. The article cites that in Zimbabwe, a quarter of the total population could be at risk of food insecurity as a result of the dry weather conditions; earlier this year, President Mugabe requested USD 1.5 billion in food aid. However, the article also suggests that response from the international donor community has been slow and may not be enough to stave off high levels of hunger. 

By: Sara Gustafson, IFPRI

Photo credit:Flickr: Ollivier Girard/Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).