Southern Africa Fights Drought of the Century
Even as world attention has been focused on halting war and famine in Somalia, people in southern Africa are finding new ways to cooperate in getting food to those who need it most
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Only in Angola, where past tensions erupted into nationwide violence following the country's first democratic ballot at the end of September, has drought relief almost ground to a complete halt.Skip to next paragraph
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Crop failures in the order of 70 to 80 percent have turned Zimbabwe and South Africa, usually net exporters of corn, into net importers. Zimbabwe has imported 2.4 million tons of commercial grain and received 0.9 million tons in food aid. South Africa has imported 6.6 million tons of commercial grain.
Regionally, imports have sky-rocketed from 2.3 million tons during the last harvest year to more than 14.5 million tons in the current 12-month period ending in March - if pledges are honored. Between 4.4 million and 6.1 million tons of corn have yet to be shipped to the region.
"What makes this drought different is that the affected countries - with the exception of Mozambique - can afford to import corn for drought relief. They have the financial credit to do that," says David Morton, southern Africa area director for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).
"Countries like Zimbabwe also have a good infrastructure of roads and railways," Mr. Morton says, which has helped make donors more forthcoming.
The 10-nation Southern African Development Community appealed to donors on Dec. 14 for $854 million worth of additional relief food, which increases the original target of 6.7 million tons for the 10 SADC countries to 8.5 million tons (including 3.3 million tons of WFP food and 5.2 million tons of target food aid).
At the end of last month, contributions from donors fell short of requirements by about 30 percent.
Deliveries have reached a peak in recent weeks and grain is being stored on ships and in silos in South Africa as the congested rail and road system works overtime to clear the offloaded grain.
The relief effort will continue at least until March in anticipation of the harvesting season in May, aid workers say.
Good December rains, which have fallen in large parts of drought-stricken Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Mozambique, do not mean that the drought has broken or that there will be a good crop next year.
Meteorologists say that those rains should be sufficient to revive parched pasture lands for starving cattle and would put some water in the smaller dams.
"But it will take much more rain to reach tree root-systems and boreholes and to replenish the bigger dams," says South African Weather Bureau forecaster Mike Laing.
Much will depend on the regional distribution of rain over the next couple of months, and the timing and extent of vital follow-up rains to nurture the young corn plants to maturity.
In some areas of southern Zimbabwe, the rains have at least produced some grazing for a dwindling band of emaciated cattle and have also enabled some communal farmers to plow and sow their seeds for the next season.
But the planting season has been delayed by a lack of seeds, the absence of draft cattle for plowing, a chronic shortage of tractors, and the preparation of fields by women using hoes.
The relief effort has seen unprecedented cooperation between South Africa's efficient rail and port authorities - Spoornet and Portnet - the United States Agency for International Development, the UN World Food Programme, the Southern African Development Community, and the governments of the 12 states affected by the drought.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has played a key role in opening food corridors in Mozambique, and a plethora of nongovernmental organizations have played a vital support role in the operations.