2018–19 Southern Africa drought

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The 2018–19 Southern Africa drought is an ongoing period of drought taking place in Southern Africa. The drought began in late October 2018, and is negatively affecting food security in the region. As of mid-April 2019, the drought is classified as a level 2 Red-Class event by the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System.[1]



As a region, Southern Africa has historically been at high risk of droughts; this risk is due to several meteorological and sociological factors.[2]

The Southern African climate is affected by strong seasonal rainfall patterns; the majority of the region's annual rainfall is deposited by storms from early November to March, forming what is considered Southern Africa's wet season. The wet months of rainfall saturate the region's soil, providing moisture that persists for the drier months of the year. While this cycle is normally reliable, anomalies in the climate—such as El Niño events—disrupt the region's annual level of rainfall;[3] this in turn causes the decline of the region's plant life, the lowering of water levels in bodies of water and a loss of moisture from soil, with the latter effect causing a drought.[4]

As noted by sources, Southern Africa's low level of economic development and reliance on agriculture—namely cereal crops and livestock—leaves the region highly susceptible to droughts.[2] Though variations exist, the region's farmers tend to plant their next crop in late October—this sowing is timed with the expected rains that begin to arrive in November. The next five-six months are considered the "lean" season, during which time stockpiled food is consumed while the concurrent "wet" season rains nourish the next year's crops. However, if the usual rains are disrupted by a weather anomaly, planting is delayed until November or early December, resulting in a longer "lean" season before crops can be harvested. If the region's weather patterns are disrupted enough to cause a drought, the lack of rainfall and eventual loss of moisture from soil often results in a noteworthy decline in Southern Africa's agricultural production; the resulting detrimental economic conditions leads to social unrest and a decline in the level of regional food security.[2][4]

Periods of drought effect Southern Africa' s various biomes and wildlife, while reduced water levels in rivers can cause hydroelectric dams to operate at reduced capacity.[5] El Niño events in Southern Africa also increase the likelihood of African armyworm outbreaks, further decreasing the region's agricultural output.[6]

Previous droughts[edit]

In the late 2015 – early 2016 season, an El Niño event caused a drought in some parts of Southern Africa.[7] As of the start of the 2018-19 ongoing El Niño-induced drought, some parts of Southern Africa had not yet recovered from the effects of the earlier drought.[7]

2018-2019 drought[edit]

Initial warning[edit]

In August and September 2018, several organizations began to warn farmers about the possibility of an oncoming drought. In August 2018 the Southern African Development Community advised farmers to avoid selling some of their stockpiled food from the previous season,[8] and in September 2018 the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) issued a warning to Southern African countries about the formation of conditions for a drought.[9] Patrick Kormawa, the Sub-Regional Coordinator for FAO in Southern Africa, predicted a 40 percent chance the region would be impacted by an El Niño event in Fall 2018.[9]

Current drought[edit]

In Fall 2018, an El Niño event disrupted Southern Africa's annual rainfall. The first effect of this disruption was a delayed sowing date, which was pushed back from late October to early November. In November, a report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported an 80 percent likelihood of the El Niño event continuing until December; it also noted that 9.6 million people in Southern Africa were severely food-insecure as of the start of the 2019 lean season.[6]

The drought has continued into 2019, as multiple regions in Southern Africa have seen significantly reduced levels of rainfall. A report[10] from FAO noted that, while rainfall had picked up in late December 2018, several areas within the region were suffering from a severe drought and accompanying effects.[11]

As of April 2019, parts of Southern Africa remain affected by the ongoing drought.[12] Heavier than average rainfall during the first weeks of February in some locales have alleviated local droughts,[13] but the area as a whole is expected to suffer from negatively impacted cropping conditions. Rates of hunger in the region have risen, and are expected to continue to rise.[14][15]

In May 2019, Namibia declared a state of emergency in response to the drought.[16]


  1. ^ "Overall Red Drought alert for Southern Africa-2018 in Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, South Africa, Zimbabwe from 21 Oct 2018 00:00 UTC to 15 Feb 2019 00:27 UTC". www.gdacs.org. Retrieved 2019-02-15.
  2. ^ a b c "Southern Africa | Drought Situtation – Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC) – DG ECHO Daily Map | 29/01/2019 - Zimbabwe". ReliefWeb. Retrieved 2019-02-14.
  3. ^ "Southern Africa: Drought - Nov 2018". ReliefWeb. Retrieved 2019-02-15.
  4. ^ a b Southern Africa Drought Situation. Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations. Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC) – DG ECHO Daily Map | 29/01/2019. PDF:http://www.gdacs.org/contentdata/maps/daily/DR/1012728/ECDM_20190129_Southern_Africa_Drought.pdf
  5. ^ "Africa to suffer major blackouts as climate change dries up hydropower dams, scientists warn". The Independent. 2018-08-30. Retrieved 2019-02-14.
  6. ^ a b "Southern Africa: Humanitarian Key Messages, November 2018 - Malawi". ReliefWeb. Retrieved 2019-02-15.
  7. ^ a b "FAO in the 2019 humanitarian appeal: 2018/19 El Niño Response Plan for Southern Africa - Zimbabwe". ReliefWeb. Retrieved 2019-02-13.
  8. ^ Iikela, Sakeus (2018-08-13). "Southern Africa: Drought Coming for SADC". The Namibian (Windhoek). Retrieved 2019-02-14.
  9. ^ a b "FAO Warns Southern Africa to Prepare for Drought". VOA. Retrieved 2019-02-14.
  10. ^ Southern Africa Dry weather conditions reduce agricultural production prospects in 2019. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). 22 January 2019. URL: https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/ca3071en_0.pdf
  11. ^ "GIEWS Update: Southern Africa - Dry weather conditions reduce agricultural production prospects in 2019 (22 January 2019) - Madagascar". ReliefWeb. Retrieved 2019-02-15.
  12. ^ "Southern Africa Food Security Alert: February 1, 2019 - Zimbabwe". ReliefWeb. Retrieved 2019-02-15.
  13. ^ Famine Early Warning System Network. Hosted by Reliefweb. PDF: https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/GlobalWeatherHazard-19.02.15.pdf
  14. ^ "Hunger in Africa continues to rise, says New UN report". East African Business Week. 2019-02-14. Retrieved 2019-02-15.
  15. ^ "UN raises alarm on drought crisis in SADC || The Southern Times". maxebooking.com. Retrieved 2019-02-15.
  16. ^ AfricaNews (2019-05-06). "Namibia declares national state of emergency over drought". Africanews. Retrieved 2019-05-20.