45 million people in South Africa are currently experiencing severe food insecurity. Hard hit countries include Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, where women and children are the worst affected. Drought, floods and political instability are to blame for the crisis, with these conditions expected to continue. World Vision reports that crop failure and poor harvest are damaging the agriculture business and resulting in inflated food prices. The World Food Program (WFP) has reported that families are skipping meals, taking children out of school and falling into debt to survive.
Regional director for the WFP, Lola Castro, stated that “The hunger crisis is on a scale we’ve never seen before and the evidence shows it’s going to get worse.” Allan Mulando of the WFP states the impact climate change is having on the hunger crisis. In a BBC interview, Mulando explains the rainy season in the last 15 years began in October, currently the start of the rainy season begins in December. WFP Executive Director David Beasley has also commented that “It is much worse than we had anticipated, we are literally talking about famine in the next few months.” Beasley went on to state “in fact, if we don’t get funding in the next few weeks and months, we are literally talking about famine. We need support, we need help and we need it now.”
The WFP plans on providing assistance to 8.3 million people struggling in the hardest hit countries. Despite its efforts, it has only managed to secure $205 million of the $489 million needed to assist South Africa. In an effort to avoid the worst famine on record, Zimbabwe has lifted its ban on genetically modified corn imports. Government spokesperson Nick Mangwana has stated “Government weighs its position on genetically modified corn against the nutritional needs of the nation and proceeds guided by that assessment.” Zimbabwe’s corn harvest is expected to drop this season, with an estimated deficit between 800,000 and 1 million tons. The European commission will mobilize a humanitarian package worth over $25 million to support the vulnerable. More action needs to be taken before famine is declared across South Africa. Attention also needs to be paid to one of the root issues causing the crisis: political instability. United Nations official Hilal Elver stated that the crisis continues to intensify due to “poverty and high unemployment, widespread corruption, severe price instabilities, lack of purchasing power.”
Consecutive crop failure and poor harvest have taken a significant toll on agricultural production. The last three growing seasons have seen areas of Africa experience their lowest rainfall in nearly 40 years. Destructive cyclones Idai and Kenneth have also had a significant impact when they hit Africa in harvest season of 2019. According to World Vision, hunger and famine in South Africa dates back to the 1960’s, and is likely to continue into the future. Urban communities are also being affected by the crisis, with rising food prices and increasing unemployment, risking potential political instability.
Urgent attention needs to be paid to the growing hunger crisis in South Africa. Al Jazeera reports that more hot and dry weather is forecast, along with yet another poor harvest season. The dry season may last longer than usual, further crippling food supplies. Food insecurity may lead to civil unrest and possible violence, as the population grows desperate to survive. Beasley said that is already the case in some countries experiencing the crisis.