South Africa is the latest victim of drought, and only a few weeks remain before the next planting season is set to begin. Unless farmers receive the aid they need, this year is slated to produce a very small harvest indeed.
“We must make the most of this small window of opportunity and make sure that farmers are ready to plant by October when the rains start,” says David Phiri of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). “The main way people are able to access food is through what they themselves produce. Assisting them to do this will provide lifesaving support in a region where at least 70 percent of people rely on agriculture for their livelihoods.”
Drought is running rampant throughout the globe. California is undergoing its fifth straight year, and scientists believe things are likely to get worse before they get better.
The Middle East is also stricken with lagging water supplies. Several farmers in the region have called it quits and relocated to areas like Syria, which some feel has sparked the country’s ongoing civil war.
In South Africa, officials are asking people to donate necessities like seeds and equipment to farming communities in order to stem production. With so little time left, the FAO warns that if workers aren’t well-equipped, millions will require humanitarian service by 2018.
“We are at a critical point,” says Emma Naylor-Ngugi of the CARE agency. “People are being pushed to the brink, and despite efforts by national governments, more should be done for those who need help the most.”
The drought has also had massive effects on local wildlife. Hippos have suffered from shrinking ponds, while buffalo populations are still recovering from the continent’s previous “dry-stretch” back in the 1990s.
Experts say the drought is likely the result of last year’s El Niño storm patterns, which have destroyed palm oil, rice and sugar plantations. Current conditions leave approximately 60 million people vulnerable to food shortages, and approximately eight of South Africa’s nine provinces have declared national emergencies.
“If we do not get the needed money, at least in the next few weeks, there will be a catastrophe,” says senior El Niño coordinator Timo Pakkala.
FAO is expecting things to peak between January and March of 2017, but while El Niño’s counterpart La Niña is expected to bring much needed rain later in the year, some believe flooding will be certain. Others, however, say that La Niña won’t be strong enough to provide South Africa with the hydration it needs, and things will wind up even worse than where they presently stand.
Agencies are now asking for $1.2 billion to strengthen riverbanks and protect livestock, which have suffered heavily under the continent’s present drought conditions. South Africa, along with nations like Botswana, Swaziland, Namibia and Zimbabwe have reported over 600,000 livestock deaths due to lagging water supplies and disease outbreaks. Funds will also be used to further equip families, purchase drought-tolerant seeds, and further develop “climate-smart agriculture.”