The twin challenges of months of drought and an invasive crop-eating worm are having serious impacts on harvests and livestock across southern Africa.
It means millions of people — most of them children — are facing severe hunger, according to warnings from the UN World Food Programme (WFP).
Seven countries have been named as the most at-risk countries by officials: Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Zambia, and South Africa.
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“Given that the region has barely emerged from three years of very damaging El Nino-induced drought, this is a particularly cruel blow,” said Brian Bogart, WFP’s Regional Programme Advisor.
“But it shows how important it is to address the root causes of hunger and malnutrition in the face of changing climatic conditions,” he said.
The region has been experiencing over four months of reduced rainfall, since October, which has caused crops to wilt, and is also threatening the survival of livestock, according to ReliefWeb.
But, even if rainfall improves over the coming months, the damage to crops is mostly irreversible.
Regional food security experts said: “Erratic rainfall, high temperature, and persistent Fall Army Worm infestation…are likely to have far-reaching consequences on access to adequate food and nutrition.”
Officials from the 14-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET), UN agencies and NGOs created the list of the most at-risk countries.
The number of people in the region needing emergency food and nutrition assistance fell from 40 million, during the peak of the 2014-6 El Nino crisis, to 26 million in 2017.
But there are fears this number will begin to rise again.
Globally, the World Health Organisation has warned that hunger is once again on the rise, after it had been falling steadily for over 10 years.
The main reasons, according to the State of Food Security and Nutrition 2017 report, are rising conflict and climate change causing extreme weather conditions.
Eight countries have now reported crisis levels of hunger and food insecurity for more than a quarter of their populations — including Yemen, South Sudan, and Ukraine.
“Hunger and all forms of malnutrition will not end by 2030 unless all the factors that undermine food security and nutrition are addressed, read the report, released by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the WFP in January.
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