Socialist Worker

Drought in Southern Africa threatens millions with famine

Millions are suffering in Southern Africa but capitalism can’t solve the climate crisis, says Alistair Farrow 

Issue No. 2492

Drought has left some 50 million people on the verge of famine in southern Africa. The United Nations says one million children are at risk of starvation. Many are in the tiny country of Lesotho.

In Zimbabwe’s north eastern provinces depleting water supplies have seen the Kariba hydroelectric dam cut back power generation by 62 percent.

Water is so scarce that people have to decide between using it for irrigating crops or for cooking and cleaning.

Some regions have seen 75 percent of their crop production falling.

“The rains came too late to save the crops. Most of the maize wilted,” said Enos Janhi, a farmer in Masvingo. “Farmers are driving their cattle into the fields to graze on the drying stalks.

“The government must act urgently to bring us food.”

Zimbabwe’s government has declared a state of emergency and requested £1.1 billion in aid.

Reports suggest food is being used as a political weapon against the opposition. Some people are buying membership cards for the ruling Zanu PF party to increase their chances of getting aid.

But there is resistance. Farmers stormed government warehouses in Mutasa region last month, demanding an end to the politicisation of food aid.

The drought has been intensified by one of the most extreme “El Nino” weather events in 50 years.

Climate change is making global weather patterns—such as El Nino—more extreme.

Recent research predicts a doubling of these events through the next century due to global warming.

The areas affected by the drought include the major maize producing areas of the continent. There is set to be a 50 percent shortfall in maize production in both South Africa and Zimbabwe this year. Global maize prices have more than doubled over the last year.

But the crisis is not limited to the agricultural sector. States across the region have built their economies around the export of a number of key commodities.

This has made them vulnerable to fluctuations in commodity markets.

Now that the system is under threat the same forces want to wash their hands of the risk associated with it, making ordinary people pay.

Corporations such as the British-owned Anglo-American are closing mining operations in South Africa as commodity prices continue to fall.

The price of copper has fallen internationally to 60 percent of its 2011 value as Chinese economic growth slows down and its demand for African exports follows suit.

The drought has also accelerated the crisis in Zambia’s copper mining industry as it also relies on electricity produced by the Kariba dam.

It is increasingly clear that capitalism cannot solve the climate crisis that it has created and that a radical solution is needed.


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