10 Feb 2016 21:40pm
WINDHOEK, 10 FEB (NAMPA) The current El Niño climate cycle is expected to persist for an additional four to six months, according to international weather forecasters.
El Niño is the warming of the central to eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, which affects rainfall patterns and temperatures in many parts of the world but most intensely in the tropical regions of Africa, Asia-Pacific, and Latin America that are particularly vulnerable to natural hazards.
El Niño is the likely cause for drought emergencies declared in several provinces in South Africa and Lesotho.
Water authorities in Botswana, Swaziland, South Africa, and Namibia are advising residents to limit water usage because of low dam levels, warned the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (Fewsnet) in an alert issued for January 2016 on its website.
Fewsnet used the data of the United States (U.S) National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the International Research Institute at Columbia University (IRI); and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF). These three institutions all predicted continued below-average rainfall likely across substantial parts of the southern African Region.
Under the theme Severe drought in Southern Africa expected to drive large food assistance needs in 2016/17, Fewsnet highlighted that parts of southern Mozambique and northern Namibia experienced a delay in the start of season of up to 40 days; rains also arrived between 10 to 30 days late in parts of central and southern Malawi. In many areas where rains began on time, subsequent periods of prolonged dryness led to failed starts.
As a result of the delayed start of the season, October to December 2015 was the driest on record for parts of central South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, central Mozambique, and central Zambia. Temperatures have also been above-average and an analysis of satellite-derived imagery indicates that vegetation conditions across large parts of the region are at their lowest levels in the past 15 years, according to the warning network.
High temperatures are also forecast to continue, further exacerbating the impacts of reduced rainfall. A continuation of hot, dry conditions is likely to reduce yields in both chronically food deficit areas and key surplus-producing parts of the region, including northern South Africa, northern Zimbabwe and possibly southern Zambia.
On food insecurity, the alert warned that the situation will deteriorate further over the coming two to three months. While the harvests of the months of April/May might improve food access in the short term, food security is likely to begin deteriorating by July, reaching its peak between December 2016 and March 2017.
In addition to reduced staple and cash crop production at the household level, the major driver of acute food insecurity over the coming year is likely to be further increases in staple food prices. Therefore, even with increased imports to the region, significantly reduced production in 2016 would put additional upward pressure on retail grain prices. The current drought is also expected to delay 2016 harvests, extending the current lean season, it stated.
While it is too early to provide detailed estimates of the population likely to be food insecure in 2016/17, Fewsnet expects that the numbers will be at least two times higher than current levels. In the short term, close monitoring of the season is required and additional assistance will be needed to help food insecure households manage an extended 2016 lean season.
In the medium term, the network advised that humanitarian partners should begin contingency planning given that, over the coming year, the severity of food insecurity and the size of the food insecure population in Southern Africa may reach their highest levels since the 2002/03 food crisis.
Meanwhile, based on the Namibian Vulnerability Assessment Committees (NVAC) 2015 evaluation, an estimated 370 316 persons are food insecure in 2015/2016, up from approximately 118 000 people in 2014/2015.