Observed and projected drought and food-security impacts of El Niño and La Niña in Southern Africa, 2014-2017. Graphic: WFP / FAO

By Lucy Lamble
21 April 2016

Harare and Lilongwe (The Guardian) – Chidyamakondo high school, near Masvingo in southern Zimbabwe, has won the national girls’ football championships three years in a row. But that cherished record – and far, far more – is now at risk.

“Students are fainting, struggling to concentrate in lessons, dropping out of school … we’re having to shorten our assemblies and cut back on sport,” says headteacher Morrison Musorowegomo.

“Some of our players would rather leave the school and get married, or they will simply stay in the villages because they have no food.”

Southern Africa is suffering the consequences of perhaps the worst drought in 35 years, and pupils at Chidyamakondo are bearing the brunt of it. Four of the football team’s best players have stopped coming to school because they need to help their families find food. The dropout rate fluctuates but is currently averaging 10%.

The problem, though, does not stop here. In March, the World Food Programme warned that almost 16 million people were already food insecure in southern Africa. Last week, this figure was raised to 31.6 million by the Southern Africa Food and Nutrition Security Working Group (pdf). One of the strongest El Niño weather events ever recorded is partly to blame: the UN has warned that its severity has “overwhelmed” many countries. It has caused severe droughts and floods in southern Africa, and hunger crises elsewhere.

Map of Zimbabwe food insecurity from February 2016 and projected to September 2016. Graphic: The Guardian

South Africa, traditionally a regional breadbasket, is just recovering from what it described as its worst drought in about 30 years, receiving the lowest rainfall in 2015 since recording began in 1904. Mozambique has raised alert levels for central and southern regions.

Last week in Malawi, which is facing its most severe food crisis in a decade, president Peter Mutharika declared a state of national disaster. Almost half of Malawian children under five are malnourished.

At Chidyamakondo, an otherwise thriving school with immaculate grounds, the devastating effects of the drought are all too clear. “It’s very difficult to teach hungry children,” says Musorowegomo.

“In classes the [attention] span is very small, and you find the kids run to the tap to get water. It’s not that they are thirsty – no, they are hungry, they want to have something in their tummies, so their learning has been greatly affected by drought.

“The majority of these kids go hungry the whole day. If at all, they are going to get a meal at night – they will be very lucky to do so.” He points to a marula tree that has become an unofficial canteen.

“You would find our kids gathered around that tree eating the fruits. That is their lunch. The situation is really bad.” […]

As she watches her daughter-in-law prepare their only meal that day, 91-year-old Temesi Chiwala reflects on the changes in climate she has witnessed throughout her long life. And then she adds: “I have never seen what I am seeing today.” [more]

'It's a disaster': children bear brunt of southern Africa's devastating drought

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