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Learning from Typhoon Haiyan: Are Southern African countries ready for the challenge?

November 6th, 2014 by Posted in Climate change, Countries, English, Food security, GROW campaign, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe
 Zuze holds up his failed maize plants.‘The climate keeps on changing and if it doesn’t improve life will be hard on us and we will just be waiting for the time when are going to die. There won’t be any solution. We are just living on faith, hoping that things will change. But if it doesn’t improve then life will be very hard. I am just waiting to see what tomorrow will bring.’ Amy Christian/ Oxfam

Zuze holds up his failed maize plants.‘The climate keeps on changing and if it doesn’t improve life will be hard on us and we will just be waiting for the time when are going to die. There won’t be any solution. We are just living on faith, hoping that things will change. But if it doesn’t improve then life will be very hard. I am just waiting to see what tomorrow will bring.’ Amy Christian/ Oxfam

A year after super-typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines, a new report issued today by the Pan-Asian Oxfam team, Can’t Afford to Wait: Briefing Note calls for governments across Asia, backed by regional and global institutions and fair contributions from wealthy countries, to ramp up efforts to address vulnerability.
In its review of recovery after the typhoon , the team has shown that one year since Haiyan struck, families in the Philippines continue to struggle for resources to resume their livelihoods. As a result, they often have to prioritize other household expenses at the expense of food. This is despite the significant levels of humanitarian assistance delivered to the Philippines by government. Over one million poor coconut farming households and 200,000 poor fishing households have been affected. Oxfam has worked across 32 municipalities since last November, investing 23 million USD (of a 60 million USD three-year plan) to help over 868,960 people with clean water supplies, community latrines, water pumps, cash vouchers for food and home repairs, fishing boat replacement and repairs, clearing coconut tree debris, and setting up sawmills to convert the debris into lumber for shelters.

Oxfam looked into the quality of the most important disaster risk and climate policies across Asia, including Philippines. Climate change contributes to increasingly devastating extreme weather events like droughts, torrential rains, storms, and typhoons like killer typhoon Haiyan. Government response is crucial. The Oxfam Asia report shows how governments create laws and plans. This is essential, but not enough to protect their citizens against climate disasters. Governments need to start acting and deliver on their plans. The main challenges across a group of five Asian countries which the Oxfam research zoomed into are: emphasis on recovery and relief after disasters strike but not on more effective investment in resilience; a lack of information on the needs of the most vulnerable communities which rely most on government action; a lack of local and multi-sectoral government capacity; and a lack of policy impact monitoring and evaluation.

Climate change disasters are not the preserve of Asia. Southern Africa has also had its share of such disasters albeit not at the same scale and policy responses appear similar to those of the Asian countries. Recent trends indicate that both sudden and slow onset disasters may increase in frequency and intensity. Some of the most common climate change disasters that have been experienced in this region include droughts, floods, extreme temperatures and changing rainfall patterns. African surface temperatures have increased by 0.5-2 °C over the past 100 years. Between 1950 and 2000, Namibia experienced warming at a rate of 0.023°C per year . Similarly, during the same period Botswana received warming at a rate of 0.017°C per year

Moreover, the frequency of hydrological events has shown marked increases in Southern African countries. During the decade from 1980 to 1999, the United Nations Statistics Office documented only a total of eight hydrological events among the countries within the Zambezi basin. The number mildly increased to twelve in the following decade (1990 to 1999). However, in the past decade (2000 to 2009), the number rose significantly to 77 events. The worst affected countries in this regard are Angola, Malawi, Mozambique, and recently, Zimbabwe.

More worrying is the 2014 5th assessment report by the IPCC, which has highlighted that climate change will interact with non-climate drivers and stressors to exacerbate vulnerability of agricultural systems in Africa, particularly in semi-arid areas. The report shows that increasing temperatures and changes in precipitation are very likely to reduce cereal crop productivity. This will have strong adverse effects on food security. New evidence is also emerging that high-value perennial crops could also be adversely affected by temperature rise. Pest, weed and disease pressure on crops and livestock is expected to increase as a result of climate change and other cofactors.

Maize-based systems, particularly in Southern Africa, are among the most vulnerable to climate change. Estimated yield losses at mid-century range from 18% for Southern Africa to 22% aggregated across sub-Saharan Africa, with yield losses for South Africa and Zimbabwe in excess of 30%.

Both the impacts of climate change on food yields, together with increased food demand militate with other factors to put pressure on food prices in this region. Already food price inflation in Southern Africa has seen a very significant upward rise (1.5 in 2010, 7.0 in 2011 and 7.2 in 2012 ). In the region, a high proportion of smallholder farmers are net food buyers of staple grains, exceeding 50% in countries such as Mozambique. Increasing food price is thus also a threat to food security of many rural producers and households who rely on purchasing such grains for their staple food. Of particular vulnerability are female-headed households, which generally have fewer assets than male-headed households.

Considering only future socioeconomic change, child malnutrition (as measured by prevalence of severe stunting) is projected to decline in sub-Saharan Africa by 2050. However, including climate change in the same projections brings about an increase of 31-55% in the relative percent of children severely stunted. In the south of the sub-continent, the projections with climate change are close to current rates, indicating that climate change would reverse the socioeconomic development gains achieved in the region.

Compounding direct climate change effects to food insecurity means that the cost of inaction or slow pace of policy action are likely to be too high. Therefore we join the Pan Asia Oxfam team in their call to governments and international donor governments to protect citizens and increase the pace of policy implementation towards resilience to climate-related risks.


1. Despite progress in policy development in countries in southern Africa around climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction, the member countries have to show a strong will to move beyond policy development to concrete implementations and accountability to their citizens

2. Vulnerable communities, especially small-scale food producers and women food producers, have to be at the centre of policy priorities. They should be the cornerstone of prioritisation in policy benefits

3. Respective countries need to align their institutions for better intergovernmental cooperation in the SADC region to deliver cross-border policy assistance to climate victims.

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