Southern Africa braces for changes from El Niño

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe
Harare, April 7, 2016: Zimbabwe’s 92-year-old President Robert Mugabe – here seen addressing War of Liberation veterans – could become El Niño’s first political victim (source: dpa)

The drought now spreading across southern Africa will have a significant economic and political impact. Depending on the severity of ensuing food shortages, the stability of several countries could be at risk. Yet the water shortage also presents an opportunity, because it may accelerate an overdue transformation of the region’s agriculture and governance.

The Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) has already declared this year’s drought a regional disaster. An effect of the El Niño temperature oscillation in the Pacific Ocean, below average rains have resulted in severe drought and crop failure across southern Africa, leaving 30 million people without secure food supplies. According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, below-average rainfall and high temperatures are likely to persist in the region for much of 2016, which would prolong food shortages into 2017.

This crisis will have lasting consequences. Poverty rates will increase in some areas, while education and health indicators will deteriorate. In Zimbabwe and South Africa, food insecurity is expected to spark violent protests. These could accelerate processes of political change, while escalating levels of violence. Drought will also alter agricultural patterns in the region and test the limits of foreign donors, pressuring states and organizations to find ways to mitigate the damage and adapt.

Below are six ways El Niño will make itself felt in Africa’s southern regions.

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