Persistent drought in Angola threatens the food security and lives of millions
by Dorance Cooper and James Majaha
Sip to safety: A little girl in Angola receives a life-saving drink of therapeutic milk
It is becoming increasingly clear that Angola is on the brink of a food security and nutrition crisis, mainly because of an ongoing drought, deemed the worst in 40 years.
The Angolan government this week discussed calling a state of emergency in the southern parts of the country where severe hunger pervades.
“We cannot stand by,” says Killen Otieno, JAM’s chief operating officer who is overseeing the organisation’s emergency response.
More than 1.3-million people in the three south-western provinces of Cunene, Huila and Namibe are facing severe hunger, with projections showing that 1.58-million people in these provinces will struggle to survive between October and March 2022. About 114,000 children under the age of five are suffering from acute malnutrition here. Severe wasting in southern Angola is now at emergency levels.
This is according to the latest Integrated Phase Classification (IPC) analysis — a common global system used for classifying the severity and magnitude of the food insecurity and malnutrition situation and identifying its key drivers in certain areas.
This slow onset disaster will lead to further migration (there are reports of people moving into Namibia) and displacement as well as negative coping mechanisms — such as using savings, resorting to crime, selling assets — for starving people.
Findings by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicate that droughts in Southern African regions, such as Angola, have grown more frequent and intense in the past few years. The persistent drought, fuelled by climate change, has endangered the lives of more than half of Angola’s population living in the nation’s south-western provinces. On top of the barren fields, dry pastures and depleted food reserves, locust infestations (also driven by changes in weather patterns) have caused excessive damage to crops, according to the World Food Programme (WFP). Food prices have risen dramatically and economic pressures have limited the buying power of ordinary Angolans.
The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the situation and led to loss of assets and livelihoods.
Affected provinces include Benguela, Huila, Cunene, Namibe, Huambo, and Kwanza Sul.
The WFP, with whom JAM has partnered, estimates that most of Angola’s six-million food insecure residents live in these affected provinces.
Additionally, a further 15-million Angolans are at risk of similar levels of food insecurity.
JAM decided to step up its response immediately.
“If we don’t intervene, we will register high levels of mortality,” says Otieno, who is collaborating with other NGOs to minimise human suffering as soon as possible.
Amnesty International’s regional director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Deprose Muchena, has called for greater assistance to the Angolan nation.
Specifically, Muchena has called on nations with the highest levels of greenhouse gas emissions to reduce their emissions and provide financial and technical assistance to countries affected by their industrial activities. Muchena urges the international community to issue assistance to Angola which will enhance the provision of food aid, and access to clean water.
JAM supports this call and will immediately commence to assist vulnerable children in affected areas to reduce mortality to the absolute minimum. The intervention will last from October 2021 to March 2022 in the provinces of Cunene, Huila, and Namibe, where the drought has had the worst effects. JAM Emergency Response will implement a focused nutrition programme in coordination with other actors such as USAid, UNICEF, WFP and the Angolan government.
- Conduct rapid assessments and under fives screening to determine hot spots and gaps;
- Provide support to therapeutic feeding programmes at hospitals, providing commodities such as therapeutic milk (F75 and F100) and ready to use therapeutic food (Plumpy’ nut) for the treatment and management of acute malnutrition.
- Work closely with identified hospitals to provide training, logistical support and daily monitoring and evaluation; and
- Provide general food distribution, such as MannaPack fortified rice and commodities provided by other entities such as WFP, ECHO and USAid, to vulnerable communities for a limited duration.
The organisation aims to redirect funds to purchase therapeutic milk and food products to ensure children receive the urgent treatment they need to survive. In JAM’s experience, severely acute malnourished children who receive these treatments are able to recover in as little as 15 days, although some children take longer.
Additional funding is required and the organisation is working tirelessly towards attaining this.
After the crisis is averted, JAM will transition from emergency response to development programmes striving to address the underlying causes of vulnerability.
Endemic malnutrition in Angola
Stunting and wasting have been endemic types of malnutrition in Angola for more than three decades and have wreaked havoc.
Most of this country’s population subsists on a cereal-based diet and is unable to afford more diverse nutritional sources. This makes the population more vulnerable to severe acute malnutrition, chronic malnutrition, and other micronutrient deficiencies.
The main drivers of malnutrition have been poverty, hunger, malaria and poor access to water and sanitation (WASH).
Joint malnutrition estimates pegged Angola’s wasting rate at 48%, placing it in second position of the 16 Southern African Developing Community (SADC) countries.
There are only a few hospitals in Angola that treat and manage severe acute malnutrition. Many of these do not have designated malnutrition treatment units. Hospitals struggle to get therapeutic milk and other medicines and lack a lot of the basic equipment necessary to identify malnutrition.
There is also a dearth of nutritional experts and funding for nutrition education and capacity building, which has led to low exclusive-breastfeeding rates.
Impoverished and malnourished children in Angola, who have limited access to WASH services and health care, are especially vulnerable to diarrhoeal disease and death.
JAM Angola was established in 1991 at the height of the civil war, initially providing relief feeding. Currently JAM, with the government, provides school meals to students in the Benguela and Kwanza Sul provinces and works in malnutrition clinics across the country to address severe and acute malnutrition among infants, children and pregnant or lactating women.
Dorance Cooper is JAM’s Country Director and James Majaha is Nutrition Specialist and Programmes Manager for Angola.