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Southern Africa’s Deadly Drought Leaving Millions Hungry


Two boys carry a dead lamb to the bush. It has just died of malnutrition. The months-long drought is affecting most of southern Africa.

According to the World Food Programme, southern Africa has received normal rainfall in just one of the past five growing seasons, with small-scale farmers the hardest hit.

The dead lamb’s owner, 55-year-old Gertruida Buffel, has resorted to sharing their own food with their animals.

There has been people that took their own lives just out of hopelessness.

For two weeks she had fed her two tiny lambs a mixture of maize meal and water after their mother died of hunger.

She has just returned home to find out one of the lambs did not make it.

“I’m not sure if it was because we were feeding him maize meal, but I could see he looked bad,” Buffel says.

“Now this other little one goes on, drinking his maize meal and it’s all I can really give him, because I don’t have money to buy them milk to feed them as they should be fed, as we used to feed them in the past. This is the result of the drought that we struggle like this,” she adds.

The United Nations estimates that more than 11 million people now face crisis levels of food insecurity in places like Zimbabwe and Mozambique, where two cyclones wiped out crops earlier this year.

The plight of farmers

Many farmers here in South Africa’s Northern Cape province, among the hardest hit areas, are trying to keep people and animals alive while revenue falls and debt piles up.

Commercial sheep farmer Louis van der Merwe, 64, broke down as he described losing more than 400 sheep and 450 springboks in the past two years because of the worst drought he has seen in 45 years of farming.

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“It is hard in Kienomerkie, we are emotional. I lost 25 percent of my sheep. Springboks are also income for us, we sell it to the hunters and they come and hunt. I had 450, 500, I can’t find anyone except for those that are dead,” he says.

Some animals died of hunger.

Others were sent prematurely to the abattoir to reduce the number of livestock to feed.

Van der Merwe says he now relies on donations of animal feed so the rest can survive.

Two of his fellow farmers have killed themselves due to the stress, he says.

The Reverend Jaco Heymans with the Dutch Reformed Church has been offering spiritual counselling to many farmers and farm workers in Vosburg.

“Many people are struggling suicidal force at this moment here and further down west, because the drought is effecting a very big part of South Africa,” Heymans says.

“And there has been people that took their own lives just out of hopelessness.”

According to farmers’ organisation Agri-SA, Northern Cape province will need over 28 (m) million US dollars in drought relief over the next three months to assist 15,500 affected farms.

So far, South Africa’s government has pledged 2 (m) million US dollars.

School food saving households

Small children are hungry, too.

At Vosburg’s only school, Delta Primary School, children line up every morning for what becomes both breakfast and lunch: usually corn meal, vegetables and soup.

While the school food programme began before the drought, it has become increasingly vital for the town.

Without it a poverty crisis would follow, teachers say.

“The feeding scheme plays a very big role to support the learners, those that don’t have something at home. So even when they are at school they become happy. For me it is better to be at school rather to be at home, because of the feeding that they are getting,” says teacher, Xolile Ngxathu.

The drought is even blurring the divisions left by racially based planning under South Africa’s harsh apartheid system that ended 25 years ago, with more affluent and mainly white residents living in more developed areas while black and mixed-race residents live in under-resourced townships.

Vosburg is no exception.

Large commercial farms are sharing their feed with small-scale farmers, and the church is counseling everyone from well-off farm owners to farm laborers who fear losing their jobs.

With the stress of the drought, residents realise they need each other more than ever to survive.

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