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Zimbabwe declares state of disaster as El Nino drought grips

By Shorai Murwira

Zimbabwe declares state of disaster as El Nino drought grips

Zimbabwean President Emerson Mnangagwa declared a state of national disaster on 3 April 2024 due to the extreme drought caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon. He stated that the country needed US$2 billion in humanitarian aid to help the millions who are facing hunger.

Zimbabwe’s declaration followed similar statements from the countries that are its traditional grain suppliers, Zambia and Malawi. El Nino has been wreaking havoc in a number of South African countries since mid-2023, inflicting hunger, malnutrition, and water scarcity on over 24 million people according to the international organization, Oxfam.

Announcing the state of national disaster, Mnangagwa indicated that due to the El Nino-induced drought, “more than 80% of our country received below average rainfall” but he gave assurances that the government “will work tirelessly towards securing food for the whole nation”.

Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee has put the number of people who are in dire need of food aid at 2.7 million while others have warned that the drought may be the worst since 1947 when they recall that Zimbabweans “ended up eating tree roots”.

More than 60% of Zimbabwe’s 16 million people live in rural areas and rely heavily on the food they grow. With the ongoing devastating drought, many will be unable to provide for themselves with most of their crops having been lost. Buying food will also be out of question for many as food prices have recently skyrocketed.

Photo Credit: Shorai Murwira

While experts comment that importing grain would trigger a further increase in food prices, nevertheless the President did not rule out this solution.

“We expect 868,273 metric tonnes from this season’s harvest. Hence, our nation faces a food cereal deficit of nearly 680,000 metric tonnes of grain. This deficit will be bridged by imports,” he said.

In addition to the serious blow to food security in Zimbabwe, the El Nino-induced drought has prompted many people to use unsafe water sources, significantly increasing the risk of more cholera outbreaks – a grim picture in a country that had already reported almost 29,000 cholera cases and nearly 600 deaths by March 2024.

Furthermore, the drought has also affected electricity supplies as hydroelectric power accounts for 70% of Zimbabwe’s power grid.

El Nino is a natural phenomenon that occurs every two to seven years and has a different impact on various weather patterns around the world, normally increasing the air temperature for a year afterwards. In southern Africa, this usually translates into prolonged drought.

Once one of the main grain exporters of southern Africa, Zimbabwe has recently increasingly relied more on humanitarian aid, with food insecurity on the rise largely due to the weather conditions. The declaration of the state of national disaster, the third in the past nine years, is expected to encourage international organizations to mobilize more aid.