The drought in Southern Africa could become one of the worst on record should the current below-normal rainfall continue, the United Nations (UN) World Food Programme said this week.
The El Niño conditions presently being experienced in the region had resulted in a 35-year rainfall low between October and December, with early indications of below-normal rainfall patterns continuing from January to March.
The weather phenomenon had hit rain-fed agriculture particularly severely, with the poor rainfall, exacerbated by excessively high temperatures, failing to create a conducive crop growth environment.
“The current growing season, which spans from October 2015 to April, is developing under the peak of El Niño, with the first phase of the growing season characterised by severe and widespread rainfall deficits,” the UN noted in a statement this week.
The climate outlook for Southern Africa was “particularly concerning” as it emerged atop poor harvests in 2014 and 2015, and even “good rainfall” would not enable recovery as the “window for planting” closed, the agency warned.
Lesotho, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe delayed planting by up to two months or more, which had severely impacted maize yields.
“Poor regional cereal harvests from the 2014 to 2015 season have tightened cereal supplies. On average, harvests were 21% lower than the 2013/14 season and 3% lower than the five-year average. In total, the cereal deficit for the region is 7.9-million tonnes for the 2015/16 marketing year,” it concluded.