Devastating Drought in Southern Africa
BY AWAKE! CORRESPONDENT IN AFRICA
MANY said it was the worst drought in this century. Some even said it was the worst in southern Africa’s history. This two-year drought that struck southern Africa left a trail of disaster. “It is worse, much, much worse than we anticipated,” stated the head of Operation Hunger, a private South African aid group. “Field trips are journeys of discovery into previously uncharted depths of misery, human suffering and want.”
“You can’t grow anything. The earth is dead,” despaired one village farmer. In some places hungry villagers ate mud or roots of wild plants. Agencies supplying food aid were overwhelmed by the demand. According to The Guardian Weekly, “southern Africa has lost a higher proportion of its crops than did Ethiopia and Sudan in the terrible drought of 1985.”
The drought brought some 18 million people to the brink of starvation. In Angola the crisis was the worst in the country’s history. It has been estimated that a million head of cattle died, and in one year about 60 percent of the crops were lost. The people most affected could not be reached to be given aid. By August 1992, two thirds of Zambia’s crops were lost, and an anticipated import of one million tons of maize was necessary. About 1.7 million people were starving.
In Zimbabwe, once called the breadbasket of southern Africa, four million needed food aid—almost half the population. In one area a schoolteacher said: “There is little water and hardly any food stocks remain. There is not a blade of grass left on the land.”
In some villages people climbed trees to pick leaves to cook and eat. The government had to reduce its food relief from 33 pounds [15 kg] to 11 pounds [5 kg] per person a month. The great man-made lake Kariba was at its lowest level ever, and water was restricted in Bulawayo.
Thousands of animals on game farms in Zimbabwe had to be shot, as there was not enough water for them. A newspaper reported: “Dead birds have dropped out of shriveled trees, tortoises, snakes, rodents and insects have disappeared.”
Mozambique was among the worst off of the drought-affected countries. The country obtained 80 percent of its food from international aid, and one estimate was that 3.2 million people were starving. Refugees poured into Malawi, South Africa, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe. But with the more recent easing of the drought, many refugees have returned.
City dwellers are often unaware of the impact of drought on the lives of rural people. An official involved with food relief observed: “The devastations caused by the drought seem distant to most people in the metropolitan areas that have escaped the severity of food and water shortages.”
Although rains brought a measure of relief to many areas, parts of Mozambique, Swaziland, and South Africa still need more rain. No doubt the effects of this drought will be felt for years to come.
Obviously, then, one cause of drought is lack of rain. But its effects are intensified by other problems that deserve consideration.
In Africa the effect of drought is greatly increased by political instability. The countries that have faced the most severe food shortages are those that have been plagued by such instability. Examples are Angola, Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Somalia. Wars have disrupted agriculture and forced many farmers to flee, leaving their farms unattended.
A controversial factor in drought is man’s pollution of the atmosphere and what is said by some to be the resultant global warming. Another factor is the increase in population. The average annual growth rate in Africa is 3 percent, one of the highest in the world. To cope with more mouths to feed, farmers cultivate land that is unsuitable for agriculture and do not leave land fallow so that it can recover.
Furthermore, forests are being destroyed, mainly to clear more ground for farming. According to the magazine African Insight, 20 years ago 20 percent of Ethiopia was forest; now only 2 percent is. Of all the environmental problems threatening the earth, some authorities say that deforestation is the most serious. It affects weather patterns and contributes to soil erosion, as well as the spread of desert regions.
Some African governments have kept food and livestock prices low to win the favor of urban consumers. This discourages farmers, who are unable to farm profitably. The government of Zimbabwe responded by increasing the price of maize by 64 percent as an incentive to farmers to produce more.
What Is the Solution?
Experts have many suggestions. But at times they have advised African countries to adopt Western farming methods, which have not proved suitable for the African environment.
Workable solutions are needed soon. A senior African official of the UN Economic Commission for Africa stated: “On the basis of all the economic projections we have seen so far, Africa in the year 2000 will not be in the ditch it is in now. It will be in the bottom of a deep black hole.”
An obvious requirement is political stability and an end to violence and war. Cooperation with neighboring countries is also essential.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Africa has the potential to feed three times its present population. But its production has been declining for decades, and at the current growth rate, its population could double within 30 years.
Food aid from foreign countries has no doubt saved many from starvation. Nevertheless, such aid on a regular basis is not the solution and has a negative effect in that it discourages local farmers from producing. These may not be able to sell their produce at a reasonable price, and people often develop a taste for imported foods and no longer desire the local grains.
What Is Being Done?
The untiring efforts of many who sincerely want to help the African people are commendable. In some areas such efforts have produced results. In Zimbabwe an international research team has implemented a scheme to plant trees that grow well and relatively quickly in dry areas. The idea is to plant these trees on a large scale to help overcome the fuel crisis, since 80 percent of the people use wood as fuel for cooking.
In the village of Charinge in the drought-stricken area of Masvingo, Zimbabwe, the farmers have been encouraged to use rocks as mulch for their vegetables and fruit trees. As a result, they need much less water, and the crops have grown very well. Farmers were even able to sell food to others in need.
In South Africa a large company modified its coal-to-oil plant so that virtually all water used is recycled after thorough treatment. Although the purification of industrial water is expensive, South Africa intends eventually to purify about 70 percent of its industrial water.
In Luanshya, Zambia, soybeans were introduced as an alternative nutritious food. An aid worker said: “Most deaths from malnutrition occur in March and June when traditional staples are in short supply. Soya, however, is harvested in April and stores better than staples such as maize and sorghum.”
As worthy as such efforts to overcome the problems of drought and food shortage may be, man, with all his technology and advancement, has not been able to quench drought in Africa. Only One understands all the implications, and he long ago foretold the solution. Under the Kingdom rule of Jehovah God through his appointed King, Jesus Christ, the words of the prophet Isaiah will soon come true literally all over the globe: “In the wilderness waters will have burst out, and torrents in the desert plain. And the heat-parched ground will have become as a reedy pool, and the thirsty ground as springs of water. In the abiding place of jackals, a resting-place for them, there will be green grass with reeds and papyrus plants.”—Isaiah 35:6, 7.
[Picture on page 12]
Villagers competed with livestock for the little water that remained in mudholes
The Star, Johannesburg. S.A.