Angola is on the brink of a food security and nutrition “catastrophe”, caused mainly by an ongoing drought, deemed the worst in 40 years. In southern Madagascar, a similar situation has reached such severity that people have resorted to eating leaves, clay and boiled offcuts of leather.
Findings by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicate that droughts in Southern Africa have become more frequent and intense in the past few years and are negatively affecting nutrition. As well as the sunburnt fields, dry pastures, dying livestock and depleted food reserves, locust infestations — also driven by changes in weather patterns — have caused excessive damage to crops, according to the World Food Programme (WFP).
In southern Angola about 114 000 children under the age of five have been identified as suffering from acute malnutrition or wasting — where children weigh too little for their height. They need immediate treatment.
“We are facing a very serious situation ahead. We have so far repurposed F75 and F100 [therapeutic milk] to save lives for the next three months, but this is not enough,” says Killen Otieno, chief operating officer of ForAfrika, an African-based humanitarian aid organisation which has launched an emergency response in Angola.
“The food security situation in southern Angola is now at an emergency level of ‘IPC4’. The next level of ‘IPC5’ will be a ‘catastrophe’ or ‘famine’.”
The IPC ratings come from the Integrated Phase Classification analysis — a United Nations-led global mechanism used for classifying the severity and magnitude of the food insecurity and malnutrition situation and identifying its key drivers.
People are food insecure when they do not have adequate access to affordable, nutritious food. If children are food insecure their normal physical growth and mental development can be severely affected — or they die.
The World Food Programme estimates that most of Angola’s six million food insecure residents live in the south-western provinces of Benguela, Huila, Cunene, Namibe, Huambo and Kwanza Sul, although a further 15 million Angolans are also at risk. Its vulnerability assessment and mapping unit projects that this situation will persist for the next four years.
“This slow onset disaster will lead to further migration — there are reports of people already moving into Namibia — and displacement as well as negative coping mechanisms such as using savings, resorting to crime, selling assets for starving people,” says Otieno.
The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the situation and led to further loss of livelihoods and assets. Food prices have risen dramatically and economic pressures have limited Angolans’ buying power.
“Hunger has a strong impact on our children, and we are filled with anguish when we witness a child asking for something and not having anything to give,” says Filomena António, a mother of six whose income has been hit by the drought.
Her two-year-old son, Miguel, was recently discharged from a malnutrition clinic in Benguela province.
There are only a handful of hospitals in Angola that treat and manage severe wasting with complications. Impoverished and malnourished children in Angola are vulnerable to diarrhoeal disease and death.
The main drivers of malnutrition are poverty, hunger, malaria and inadequate water and sanitation — and now the drought.
Amnesty International’s regional director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Deprose Muchena, said: “The situation in southern Angola is a stark reminder that climate change is already causing suffering and death. The international community, particularly wealthier states and those most responsible for the climate crisis, must take immediate action to fulfil their human rights obligations by urgently reducing emissions, and providing the necessary financial and technical assistance to the government and local civil society to support impacted communities.”
Such assistance will enhance the provision of food aid and clean water.
ForAfrika has been working in Angola for the past 30 years, initially providing relief feeding during the country’s civil war (1975-2002). It will now provide therapeutic milk (such as F75 and F100) and food products to ensure children receive the urgent nutritional treatment they need to survive.