Humanitarian organizations are warning of an impending food emergency in southern Angola as the region faces the aftermath of the worst recorded drought in nearly half a century.
Launching an urgent eight-million-dollar appeal, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said five consecutive years of severe drought had left more than 1.5 million people at risk of famine.
It’s not known how many may have died already as a result of drought and malnutrition but thousands of starving people braved crocodile-infested rivers to cross the border into Namibia to seek help and survivors reported many dying along the way. Namibia is repatriating drought refugees who, given the ongoing conditions, are having to regroup in resettlement camps in Angola.
The Angola Red Cross has begun delivering primary assistance to the worst-affected areas in the provinces of Huila, Cunene and Namibe. But the situation is said to be critical, after publication of a recent drought analysis report across the vulnerable provinces revealed half-a-million people were already in what was determined as an IPC “Phase 3, Crisis” situation while 300,000 people had gone beyond that to “Phase 4, Emergency” status, in need of immediate supplies of food and water.
From the numbers assessed so far, it’s estimated that as many as 400,000 children in the region will required treatment for some level of acute malnutrition this year. The World Health Organization (WHO) has defined three levels of wasting malnutrition caused by sudden reductions in quantity or quality of food intake: rising from Moderate Acute Malnutrition (MAM) to Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) and Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM).
According to the European Union, the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)and International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) reported that current available funding will only allow the supply of UNICEF emergency nutrition packs to 11,000 of the 56,000 children assessed to date as suffering from SAM while the prevalence of GAM in some provinces is already above the emergency threshold of 15%. An analysis conducted in 10 municipalities revealed 114,000 children under five already in need of help but a breakdown in the supply ‘pipeline’ means it will take several months to restock therapeutic feeding supplies.
The IFRC drought report, published in March, assessed the situation across five provinces severely affected by water scarcity and the consequent compromised sanitation and hygiene conditions. Of the 16 worst affected communes, 12 were in Cunene Province while Huila and Namibewere also highlighted as priority regions for interventions. It sparked a joint Red Cross and Angolan government mission to visit the affected areas the following month, after which they agreed to combine efforts to devise a strategy to address the root causes of food insecurity and drought.
GENESIS OF A FOOD CRISIS
This crisis has been years in the making with a once fertile and productive region increasingly beleaguered by conflict and drought. Some of this is due to climate change. But food insecurity has been growing across the region for decades. Colonial-era farms were abandoned and fell into ruin after the mass exodus of European settlers upon Independence from Portugal in 1975. The ensuing 37 years of civil war displaced hundreds of thousands of people, destroyed infrastructure such as roads and bridges, and rendered large tracts of land unworkable due to the indiscriminate sowing of landmines, constantly shifting in the sandy soils.
Rural areas have been waiting 20 years since the official end of that Civil War for the benefits of peace. Reconstruction and development projects were repeatedly delayed not least because, instead of investing in development to benefit the entire nation, the corrupt and self-serving Dos Santos Administration diverted billions of dollars in oil revenue into secret bank accounts and shell companies in tax havens abroad. Despite extreme poverty and the absence of infrastructure for storage, transport and sale of produce, rural communities survived so long as the rains came to water their crops and provide grazing for their cattle.
Consecutive years of drought, exacerbated by the repeated depredations of locust swarms, resulted in poor harvests year on year and livestock, once the regional measure of a family’s wealth, were attenuated – and in some places wiped out – by disease and lack of fodder. In the past, local pastoralists would have been able to use common grazing areas to feed their cattle during periods of drought but a report by Amnesty International found that 67 percent of that land is now occupied by commercial cattle ranches.
The result has been that peasants and pastoralists alike exhausted their reserves and many lost their livelihoods altogether. National economic and health crises such as Covid-19 compounded the situation, disrupting an already weak supply chain and forcing up market prices of increasingly scarce food supplies. People reported having to eat grass and leaves to alleviate crippling hunger pangs. Hunger exacerbated by lack of access to safe water and sanitation resulted in a deadly cycle of malnutrition and disease.
The World Bank has assessed the economic impact of the drought at 749 million US dollars. In March this year, it drew up an aid and loan package worth 300 million US dollars to finance physical investments in urban and rural areas to increase water security and help manage climate extremes in selected areas, in a project called the Climate Resilience and Water Security in Angola Project (RECLIMA). Jean-Christophe Carret, World Bank Country Director for Angola, said the RECLIMA project will be co-financed by the French Development Agency (AFD) through a euro-denominated loan equivalent to $150 million and will be implemented in Huila, Cunene and Namibe along with five other provinces (Zaire, Benguela, Kwanza Sul, Cuando Cubango, and Luanda).
IMMEDIATE RESPONSE AND PLANS
In the short term the IFRC has recommended combined government and humanitarian organizations mobilize to treat acute malnutrition in all children under five years of age, along with pregnant and lactating women, and other special attention categories. It also recommends ongoing assistance to reduce the deficit in food and water supplies by opening new multi-purpose boreholes near communities for livestock watering and by making seeds available for the next season. The IFRC further calls for expansion of the Kwenda programme (a monetary transfer social assistance programme) to the worst affected areas.
The Angola Red Cross has identified as priorities the communities of Cahama and Kalonga (in Cunene province), Gambos/Chiange and Ombadja (in Huila province), and Virei and Calueque (in Namibe province due to widespread need and the absence of assistance from other actors. It plans to assist 328,880 people in those areas by distributing voucher and CASH-plus payments to families in the short term (reaching a total of 213,772 people) to cover basic needs. The Red Cross will also engage with community representatives to deliver public health information and advice.
The Ministry of Health, with support partners such as UNICEF, has set up community kitchens targeting malnourished children. The Angola Red Cross is already collaborating with these community kitchens through the DREF and will be replicating and expanding this successful model to create 30 community kitchens to serve a further 164,442 people. It is also planned to establish community nutrition gardens along the Cafu canal similar to the FRESAN project (supported by the EU in coordination with the government), which has had a considerable impact in support for water, sanitation, and hygiene education projects (WASH).
The Angolan government has agreed to combine efforts with the international humanitarian community to devise a comprehensive drought response strategy. The Angolan Minister of State for the Social Area (currently Carolina Cerqueira) will chair an inter-ministerial committee liaising with the Humanitarian Country Coordination Team (comprising the IFRC, Angola Red Cross and UN agencies) to devise a future drought response strategy, with coordination and management of on-the-ground efforts through the Department of Civil Protection. In line with its Drought Response Plan, the government is undertaking major adaptation and mitigation projects, one of them being the Cafu Canal which diverts water from the Kunene River.
In addition to the work of the Angola Red Cross and other non-governmental organizations, UNICEF has been supporting the Angolan Ministry of Health with nutrition interventions in the worst-hit municipalities, while the WFP has been supporting food distribution in resettlement camps for the drought refugees repatriated from Namibia to Cunene province. The IFRC has emphasized that the next response priority is to ensure that all children suffering, or likely to suffer, from acute malnutrition get access to treatment. It recommends expanding the provision of essential integrated health and nutrition services at community level to deliver education on water and sanitation, including household harvesting of rainwater and good practice for treating drinking water and dealing with sanitation.
LONG TERM STRATEGY
The IFRC and the Angola Red Cross are also working with different parties (the government, African Union, Africa Development Bank, UN agencies, among others) in a long-term engagement strategy to create mechanisms that will allow people to adapt and be more resilient to climate shocks. This longer-term strategy is aligned with the IFRC8 Call for action and Pan-African Zero Hunger Initiative that undertakes a holistic approach to food security, associating specific interventions for rapid nutrition, food security and livelihood support for acute food-insecure communities, with a long-term strategy working towards zero hunger and more sustainable development.
Further recommendations to the combined government and humanitarian drought response strategy team include finding a mechanism to give early earning of extreme weather events, and to promote the construction of dams, reservoirs and drainage channels connecting rivers and communities.
 The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) is an innovative multi-partner initiative for improving food security and nutrition analysis and decision-making. It allows Governments, UN Agencies, NGOs, civil society and other relevant actors, to work together to determine the severity and magnitude of acute and chronic food insecurity, and acute malnutrition situations in a country, according to internationally-recognised scientific standards.