Zimbabwe declares national state of disaster as El Nino drought devastates country


HARARE – President Emmerson Mnangagwa has declared the 2023/2024 summer cropping season a national disaster in Zimbabwe, as the country grapples with the dire consequences of the El Nino induced drought that has ravaged the southern Africa region.

Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa declares national state of disaster due to El Nino induced drought
President Mnangagwa delivering his national address declaring the 2023/24 cropping season a national disaster. [Image: @InfoMinZw/X]

Zambia and Malawi are among the other southern African countries that have declared states of national disaster. 

In a national address from the State House in Harare on Wednesday, President Mnangagwa cited the Zimbabwe Livelihoods Assessment Committee Report for 2023, which estimates that 2.7 million people in the country will face food insecurity from April 2023 until the end of March 2024. 

The president acknowledged the government's efforts to mitigate the crisis but warned that the number of food insecure individuals is expected to rise.

"The current agricultural season of 2023/2024 has not met expectations due to the El Nino induced drought. Over 80% of our country experienced below-normal rainfall. Despite planting a total of 1,728,897 hectares of maize and cereals, this did not guarantee a bountiful harvest. Compounding the situation was the outbreak of the fall armyworm," President Mnangagwa explained.

"The foregoing situation of the climate change induced drought requires measures and interventions as provided for in our laws. To that end, I do hereby declare a nationwide State of Disaster, due to the El Nino- induced drought," the president said. 

He emphasized that the government would prioritize providing timely food supplies to vulnerable households. 

Currently, the strategic grain reserve holds 189,568 metric tonnes of cereal, including 145,604 metric tonnes of maize and 43,964 metric tonnes of traditional grains. 

The president announced that the administration has allocated an additional 138,905 metric tonnes of surplus wheat to the strategic grain reserve, bringing the total grain stock to approximately 356,000 metric tonnes. The expected harvest for this season is estimated to be 868,273 metric tonnes, leaving the country with a nationwide food deficit of 680,000 metric tonnes.

President Mnangagwa stressed the government's commitment to securing food for all Zimbabweans and mentioned mobilizing resources and redirecting them towards national food security, including supplementary grain imports. 

Preliminary assessments indicate that Zimbabwe requires over US$2 billion for various interventions. 

In declaring the national disaster, President Mnangagwa invoked the legal provisions of the Civil Protection Act [Chapter 10:06], which establishes protection organizations and civil protection services in times of disaster. 

It also provides for the creation of a fund to finance civil protection. The president invoked Section 27 (1) of the Act, which empowers him to declare a state of disaster if extraordinary measures are deemed necessary to assist and protect affected individuals within Zimbabwe.

President Mnangagwa appealed to all Zimbabweans, including the diaspora, the international community, United Nations agencies, development and humanitarian partners, international financial institutions, churches, the private sector, and individuals to generously donate towards alleviating the national disaster.

The El Nino induced drought has resulted in significant crop losses for the 2023/2024 cropping season. 

El Nino is a naturally occurring weather phenomenon characterized by disrupted wind patterns and warmer ocean surface temperatures in the eastern and central Pacific. 

It occurs every two to seven years, lasts nine to 12 months, and can lead to extreme weather events such as tropical cyclones, prolonged droughts, and wildfires. Extreme weather events have become more pronounced in recent years due to the effects of climate change. 

The World Food Programme (WFP) has assisted 270,000 people in four drought-prone districts between January and March, but additional funds are needed to provide food aid to more affected individuals, according to Christine Mendes, the acting country director of WFP.

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