Extreme drought in southern Africa leaves millions hungry

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Women share peas during a food aid distribution in Mangwe district in southwestern Zimbabwe, on March, 22. (AP)

MANGWE, Zimbabwe, March 31, (AP): Delicately and with intense concentration, Zanyiwe Ncube poured her small share of precious golden cooking oil into a plastic bottle at a food aid distribution site deep in rural Zimbabwe.
“I don’t want to lose a single drop,” she said.
Her relief at the handout – paid for by the United States government as her southern African country deals with a severe drought – was tempered when aid workers gently broke the news that this would be their last visit.
Ncube and her 7-month-old son she carried on her back were among 2,000 people who received rations of cooking oil, sorghum, peas and other supplies in the Mangwe district in southwestern Zimbabwe. The food distribution is part of a program funded by American aid agency USAID and rolled out by the United Nations’ World Food Programme.
They’re aiming to help some of the 2.7 million people in rural Zimbabwe threatened with hunger because of the drought that has enveloped large parts of southern Africa since late 2023. It has scorched the crops that tens of millions of people grow themselves and rely on to survive, helped by what should be the rainy season.
They can rely on their crops and the weather less and less.
The drought in Zimbabwe, neighboring Zambia and Malawi has reached crisis levels. Zambia and Malawi have declared national disasters. Zimbabwe could be on the brink of doing the same. The drought has reached Botswana and Angola to the west, and Mozambique and Madagascar to the east.
A year ago, much of this region was drenched by deadly tropical storms and floods. It is in the midst of a vicious weather cycle: too much rain, then not enough. It’s a story of the climate extremes that scientists say are becoming more frequent and more damaging, especially for the world’s most vulnerable people.
In Mangwe, the young and the old lined up for food, some with donkey carts to carry home whatever they might get, others with wheelbarrows. Those waiting their turn sat on the dusty ground. Nearby, a goat tried its luck with a nibble on a thorny, scraggly bush.
Ncube, 39, would normally be harvesting her crops now – food for her, her two children and a niece she also looks after. Maybe there would even be a little extra to sell.
The driest February in Zimbabwe in her lifetime, according to the World Food Programme’s seasonal monitor, put an end to that.

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