The Southern African Development Community (SADC) sub-region needs at least 2.7 billion US dollars to mitigate the effects of the El Nino-induced drought and has launched an appeal for humanitarian assistance.

Since being hit by the worst drought in more than 30 years, the SADC is more concerned about food security which may lead to millions suffering from starvation. Currently, 40 million people representing 14 of the total population of the 15-nation grouping are food insecure.

“In South Africa, the biggest grain producer in the region, it is estimated that the maize harvest resulted in approximately 7.16 million tonnes, about 4.0 million tonnes less than average. Several countries, including Lesotho and Swaziland, have recorded over 50 per cent drops in their crop harvests,” says Botswana’s president Ian Khama, the current SADC chairman.

South Africa has its fair share of challenges. The chairperson of farmers body Agri North West says many of its farmers have been badly affected by the drought. He says less food production may mean not being able to help neighbours in the region.

“Seeing that in South Africa we have a very well developed agricultural sector that includes supply lines you know the whole value chain obviously. If our growing population and being able to produce and the implementation of new technologies make it possible, it is under pressure to be able to say whether we will have access food to be able to export,” says Agri South Africa’s Pierre Vercueli.

Donor countries are already responding to the call by the SADC. According to the European Union’s head of delegation (ambassador) to Botswana and the SADC Alexander Baum: “This year alone we are providing 60 million euros to the most affected countries in the region, which are about seven countries.”

United States Agency for International Development (USAID) representative Blake Chrystal says: “There are two things: there is an immediate need for food and people who are food insecure. We are providing assistance for that. There’s also resiliency and disaster drought mitigation which is longer term.”

The region says it has learnt from the El Nino experience to be vigilant against natural disasters in the future.