16 October 2013 | by Lilly Peel
In the middle of one of the most severe droughts in decades, an estimated 1.5 million people in southern Angola and more than 778,000 people in northern Namibia do not currently have enough food or water, according to the UN.
With the threat of hunger, disease and lost livelihoods growing daily, local Civil Society Organisations are now warning that unless more is done to help communities build resilience to such erratic changes in the climate, this part of Africa could become the next Sahel.
Severe drought and crop failure
When I visited families of semi-nomadic farmers in south west Angola earlier this year, it was already clear that most of their crops were not going to survive. Stems of millet were drying out in the fields and the earth was cracked from the lack of rain over the past two years. The further south we went the worse it became, and we kept hearing the same thing over and over again: there has been no rain.
With food stores already empty following last year’s drought, everyone told me that the biggest challenge they face now is hunger. Villagers showed me the leaves, roots and berries they are forced to eat in order to survive, while women showed me how they had starting wearing their rope belts fastened tight around their waists in an attempt to lessen the constant pain of hunger. Their children’s distended stomachs were a clear sign of kwashiorkor (malnutrition).
‘There hasn’t been a hunger crisis as bad as this since 1978. It’s so painful when you watch people starving and you can’t do more,’ said Jacinto Pio Wakussanga, a local Catholic priest and president of Christian Aid’s long-standing Angolan partner, the Association for Building Communities (ACC).
‘When you’re a community leader people look to you as their saviour but you are only human. It is really painful to watch people you know die.’
Not enough water for either people or their cattle
Wakussanga, or Padre Pio as he is known, has been working with pastoralist communities in Huila province for many years: ‘There is not enough food and there is not enough water for either people or their cattle. In some places the water is not fit for human consumption. Elsewhere the water wells are drying up completely,’ he explains.
‘People have begun moving from rural areas to towns such as Chinage or Lubango looking for employment, for anything they can do to earn some money to feed their families – anything they can do to survive. People are even starting to sell off their cattle – the equivalent of their life savings - so they can buy food for their families.’
Community kitchens and vegetable gardens
Padre Pio has been working hard to bring together the expertise of ACC with the manpower of the local parish and national advocacy. As well as distributing food and setting up community kitchens, ACC is supporting people to create market gardens by providing seeds for drought-resistant crops and water pumps to access water deep beneath the soil.
‘In the communities where we are planting vegetable gardens, there has been less movement to urban areas as these people are now hopeful that they will survive. Plans such as this bring hope to local people. They are more likely to stay and concentrate on resilience strategies,’ he explained.
Resilience to cope with the changing climate
The Angolan government formed an emergency response committee in May but local charities believe that the politicians are not doing enough to help communities build up their resilience to cope with the changing climate.
Angola is a country rich in oil, diamonds and other minerals. However, as is so often the case, the resources are not shared equally, with a tiny and extremely wealthy elite holding all the power and money, while the vast majority of Angolans struggle to live on less than $2 a day.
‘The government has provided some food assistance, but the distribution has been random,’ says Padre Pio. ‘There is no well-planned strategy for families hit by the crisis. Food is not enough. There has been no real assessment of who needs food, and among them which are the most vulnerable and what kind of food they need.’
ACT Angola Forum, part of the global ACT Alliance of which Christian Aid is a member, has launched an appeal to help communities before the situation deteriorates any further.
Find out more
View our Flickr photo gallery for World Food Day
Read more about our work in Angola
Lilly's blog was also published on The Independent website