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Zambia Declares State of Emergency Amid Severe Drought Crisis

Over a million farming households have been affected by the drought disaster brought on by both El Nino and climate change.

Saurabh Shukla
Zambia Declares State of Emergency Amid Severe Drought Crisis (Photo Source: @HHichilema/X)
Zambia Declares State of Emergency Amid Severe Drought Crisis (Photo Source: @HHichilema/X)

Zambia, a nation already grappling with economic challenges, has been pushing into a state of national disaster and emergency. President Hakainde Hichilema has declared this dire situation a result of the El Niño weather phenomenon exacerbated by climate change. As the crisis unfolds, it has become increasingly evident that urgent action is required to mitigate the devastating effects.

With 84 out of its 116 districts affected, Zambia finds itself in the distress of a severe drought. The impact on agriculture has been catastrophic, with approximately 1 million hectares of maize destroyed. This loss represents nearly half of the country's planted area, signaling a grave threat to food security.

Government Response

To combat the crisis, the Zambian government has implemented various measures to address the immediate challenges. Notably, the export of maize and maize flour has been restricted, and security personnel have been deployed to prevent smuggling activities. President Hichilema, in a televised address on February 29th, outlined a comprehensive plan to tackle the crisis head-on.

The government's strategy includes significant adjustments to the 2024 budget, aimed at allocating resources to critical areas of need. Additionally, humanitarian aid will be mobilized to support affected communities. Importantly, efforts to mitigate the power deficit, which stands at a staggering 430MW, will be prioritized. Plans to import and ration electricity are underway, reflecting the gravity of the energy crisis.

Zambia's plight is not isolated, as neighboring countries grapple with similar weather challenges. The shift in El Niño weather patterns, characterized by extreme rainfall shortages, has compounded the situation across the region. This collective struggle underscores the urgent need for regional cooperation and support mechanisms.

The crisis comes at a particularly challenging time for Zambia's economy, heavily reliant on copper production. With the mineral extraction sector consuming over half of the country's power supply, the energy deficit poses a significant threat to economic stability. The reliance on hydropower further exacerbates the situation, highlighting the imperative for diversified energy sources.

Amidst the crisis, Zambia continues to grapple with debt restructuring negotiations with its creditors. Recent agreements with India and China offer a glimmer of hope, yet significant challenges persist. President Hichilema and public officials have urged private creditors to consider restructuring the country's substantial external debt holdings, amounting to $13 billion.

As Zambia confronts one of its most formidable challenges to date, the road ahead remains uncertain. However, with decisive action and international support, there is hope for mitigating the immediate impact of the drought crisis and laying the foundation for long-term resilience.

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