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El Niño Scorches Southern Africa: Driest February in Decades Leaves Region Parched

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The unrelenting sun beat down on a parched landscape, a cruel reminder of the devastation wrought by El Niño. This year, swathes of southern Africa endured the driest February in decades, a weather anomaly that has crippled agriculture, threatened food security, and exposed the region’s vulnerability to climate extremes.

“The past season has been unlike anything I’ve seen before,” said John Banda, a maize farmer in Zambia, his voice etched with worry. “The rains just never came. My crops are withering, and I fear the harvest will be a fraction of what it usually is.”

Banda’s story echoed across the region.  Early data from the University of California Santa Barbara’s Climate Hazards Center paints a grim picture. Large parts of Zambia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe received the least rainfall – or close to it – since records began in 1981. This lack of precipitation has had a domino effect.

“The drought has exacerbated existing challenges,” explained Dr. Siphiwe Moyo, a climate scientist at the University of Pretoria. “Water reservoirs are running low, hydropower generation is hampered, and some areas are even facing power cuts.”

The impact on staple crops like maize has been particularly severe.  “We’ve lost an estimated 45% of planted areas,” said Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema, who declared the drought a national disaster last month. “This is a devastating blow to our food security.”

Zimbabwe’s President, Emmerson Mnangagwa, painted a similarly bleak picture. “More than 80% of the country received below-normal rainfall,” he announced. “Our nation faces a food cereal deficit, and we will need to import to supplement our stocks.”

The financial implications are stark. Zimbabwe alone estimates it will require $2 billion to mitigate the drought’s impact. But the human cost is even more profound. Millions across the region face hunger and malnutrition, with the poorest communities bearing the brunt of the crisis.

While El Niño is a cyclical weather phenomenon, scientists warn that climate change is making these events more frequent and severe.  “Southern Africa is particularly vulnerable,” said Dr. Moyo. “We need to invest in climate-resilient agriculture and improve our early warning systems to adapt to this new reality.”

As the southern hemisphere heads into winter, the hope for rain remains. But for many in southern Africa, the scars of this historic drought will linger long after the last scorched leaves fall.

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