Wall Street Journal | Severe Droughts Leave Africans Hungry and Desperate

Posted September 29, 2015 by Ugandan Diaspora News Team in Karamoja Drought ~ 2,037 views


karamoja drought

AKUYAM, Uganda— Ann Alinga points dejectedly to her family’s smallholding of sorghum and sunflower fields, ravaged by Africa’s worst dry spell in two decades. Like many in this remote village, the mother of five is now plucking wild fruits in a desperate bid to keep her family alive.

“There is nothing to harvest,” the 35-year-old said as she surveyed her parched and failing 5-acre farm. “We won’t survive on the shrubs alone.”

In recent seasons, Ms. Alinga harvested nearly a ton of grains, enough to her feed her children and raise extra cash for the family’s other needs. But the severity of this year’s drought has written off her sunflower crop and destroyed the harvest across this swath of agricultural land in northern Uganda.

The damage to food production is spreading across the continent: From Angola to Zimbabwe, officials say more than 30 million Africans will need help to survive the looming tropical dry season after the worst droughts since 1992 slashed this year’s harvest of such staples as corn, rice and beans by half.

Those farmers and their customers will look to international agencies and their governments for aid. But this year’s shortages are being aggravated by an incongruous dynamic: Surging economic growth has diminished many nations’ reliance on foreign donors, leaving them more exposed to the ravages of unexpected droughts and storms.
Increasing independence is mostly a good thing, recognition of Africa’s emergence as one of the fastest-growing corners of the global economy. But the current shortages show that many countries remain too poor and isolated to ramp up imports when times turn tough.

The Southern African Development Community bloc has asked member states to lobby for food assistance individually, said Margaret Nyirenda, the bloc’s director of food, agriculture and natural resources. Leaders couldn’t agree on a joint regional road map at a summit in Botswana in August.

Global market turmoil in recent weeks has sent many African currencies down more than 20% against the U.S. dollar, making imports to the continent more costly than ever.

That is creating liquidity crunches in Angola, Zimbabwe and South Sudan that are hurting official efforts to supplement poor harvests and driving the prices of staples foodstuffs higher. Staple grain prices have hit five-year highs, according to U.S.-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network.

“Exchange rates are blowing out. That’s pushing up prices,” said Ferdi Meyer, director of South Africa’s Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy at the University of Pretoria.

Some companies are suffering, too. Food processors in Zambia and Zimbabwe are operating at a third of their normal capacity. Copper miners in Zambia and Congo are pressing for higher wages to meet rising food costs.

The crisis could deepen in the months ahead if, as forecast, the intermittent ocean-warming pattern known as El Niño dumps unprecedented rains on East Africa. Farmers in Kenya and Ethiopia say they could lose crops. Weak roads and other infrastructure could buckle.

“We are seeing higher volatility and more extreme weather,” Mr. Meyer said.

To be sure, lack of irrigation has for years pinned the fortunes of cultivating across Africa on good rains, a danger to millions of small landholders. But for many, the impact of this year’s drought has been the most devastating in living memory.

In the past, donors have provided emergency foodstuffs to the hungry in Karamoja, the swath of flat pastoral plains in northeastern Uganda that includes Ms. Alinga’s village, Akuyam. But this year, foreign donors are focused on the refugee crisis emanating from Syria and Iraq, making it harder to find funding.

“There’s a lot of need out there,” said David Orr, the United Nations World Food Program’s spokesman for southern Africa.

Since December, the WFP has cut food-aid rations in Africa three times.

“Reducing rations is a last resort to ensure we can continue providing lifesaving support,” said Alice Martin-Daihirou, the U.N. agency’s director for Uganda. The agency said this month that two-thirds of households in the region have run out of the food meant to last them into 2016.

“This would be a harvesting period, but look at what’s there: nothing,” said John Lorot, a council leader near Akuyam. “People need relief food and the time to act is now, not later.”

Outside, 80-year-old Lokwara Kilamoi sat by the roadside surrounded by a dozen of his grandchildren. The haggard youngsters hadn’t had a hearty meal in days, he said. They leapt excitedly when a WFP truck appeared on the road, only to be dejected as it rattled on.

“No one is helping out. We are on our own,” Mr. Kilamoi said, adding that a family member sends them around $10 a month, enough for about 13 pounds of sorghum. Shrubs and wild fruits form the rest of their diet.

For Ms. Alinga, this year’s drought is only her latest trial. She has only planted crops since her family’s cattle herd was stolen six years ago. She owes a local cooperative about $100 for the seeds that have failed her.

She says she has no way to pay it back. After gathering edible leaves and fruits each day to sustain her family, she helps her husband cut and dry brush to sell as firewood, bringing in about 25 cents a day.

“We are so stressed,” Ms. Alinga says. “My children may even starve.”

Source — Wall Street Journal

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Ugandan Diaspora News Team

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