The severe unprecedented drought in Southern Africa is having Catastrophic Consequences for the population. Urgent action is needed before the early start of the lean season, next July 2024.

Driest mid-season spell in over 100 years, exacerbated by an El Niño phenomenon impacting large parts of Southern Africa

Prolonged lean season leading to significant food insecurity levels.

Unprecedented water scarcity affecting access to water for people, livestock and wildlife.


  1. The worst mid-season dry spell in over 100 years, marred by the lowest mid-season rainfall in 40 years, and exacerbated by an El Niño phenomenon, is having a severe impact on the population in Southern Africa. The late January to early March mid-season dry spell characterized by heatwaves and temperatures five degrees above average – has led to the declaration of national disasters in Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. It has impacted large parts of Angola, Botswana, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa. There is a likelihood of more countries declaring a national emergency y as the coping capacity of affected communities, particularly around access to food, water and livelihood, is eroded.
  2. El Niño conditions have also caused heavy rains and flooding in Madagascar, Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia displacing thousands of people, with Madagascar declaring a national disaster due to Tropical Storm Gamane in March 2024.
  3. There is a 60% chance of La Niña developing by June-August 20241, with a heightened risk of flooding for countries impacted by El Niño. That could result in significant humanitarian impact, especially where the resilience of affected communities has been weakened by the drought. However, favorable moisture conditions may bring reprieve to animals and wildlife and enable crop farming.
  4. Millions across the region need immediate multisectoral lifesaving and life sustaining humanitarian assistance. At least 6.6 million people require urgent humanitarian assistance in Zambia as well as nearly 9 million in Malawi and 2.7 million people in Zimbabwe.
  5. Food insecurity levels are expected to increase dramatically during the regular lean season which typically starts in October but may start as early as July this year. The impact of the dry spell on food security is severe in a region where 70 per cent of smallholder farmers rely on rain-fed agriculture for their livelihood. The number of countries and people requiring food assistance will grow, as more communities deplete their provisions and as food prices continue to rise.
  6. Food prices are significantly rising in many drought-affected areas, making it difficult for families to afford basic items and reducing children’s access to a nutritious diet. The highest food inflation rates in the region stand at 84% in Zimbabwe, 42% in Malawi, and 25% in Angola as of March 2024. A peak in the increase in admissions for wasting is expected in the first quarter of 2025. The region already has concerning nutrition indicators with 1 in every 3 children stunted. An estimated 21 million children under five years are stunted in the region, which is an increase from 18.6 million reported in 2022.
  7. Gender-based violence, which is already notably high in the region, with an estimated 1 in 3 adolescent girls affected, will grow during the emergency as the protection systems and structures are destroyed. Families may make decisions in survival mode, to meet immediate food security needs, with long-term consequences for their families, especially children (family separation, child labor, recruitment by armed groups, neglect, gender-based violence child marriage, female genital mutilation). Gender-based violence amplifies the risk of HIV transmission, further complicating the challenges faced by adolescent girls in the region.
  8. This is unfolding at a time when the region is grappling with one of the worst cholera outbreaks in decades. Zimbabwe and Zambia are among the most severely impacted countries and jointly account for 86 per cent of all reported cholera cases in the region in 2024. The combination of cholera and malnutrition significantly increases the risk of deadly outcomes for children.
  9. Across the region, millions of people are starting to face water shortages as water points dry up heightening the risk of water borne diseases. The dry spell is also leaving the region in a water crisis which is not only affecting people and animals, but regional energy generation. Water shortages could also impact infection prevention and control in health facilities and schools, leading to poor treatment outcomes for children, pregnant women and other vulnerable groups, especially in remote areas.
  10. Water scarcity is also impacting livestock and wildlife, over 9,000 drought-related cattle deaths have been reported in Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe between October 2023 and February 2024. As animals increasingly share the same water sources with affected people, human animal conflict is starting to be reported.
  11. Time is of the essence, unless response is urgently scaled up, millions of people in the region will slide into worse levels of acute food insecurity and malnutrition. There is a short window of opportunity to intervene as the lean season will start early, in July.
  12. While governments are doing their best, the needs far exceed their capacity to respond. Humanitarian partners are working on plans to complement the efforts of the governments, however immediate scale up and response is urgently required to avert large-scale loss of life in the period ahead.
  13. We urgently call on donors to support partners to immediately implement multisectoral lifesaving and life sustaining activities and also to work on enabling communities to return to self-reliance and build resilience against future shocks. Key priority areas include food assistance, provision of water for people and animals, as well as the provision of agriculture inputs to capitalize on the expected favorable moisture conditions likely to be brought about by the forecasted La Niña phenomenon.

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