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Zambia Declares State of Emergency Due to El Nino Droughts Affecting Water and Electricity Supply

Credit: Rod Waddington  

On Thursday, the Zambian government declared the current drought affecting their country and other parts of Southern Africa as a national disaster.

 “In view of these challenges … we hereby declare a prolonged drought as a national disaster,” the president stated in a televised national address from the country’s capital, Lusaka.

The President of Zambia, Hakainde Hichilema, said the droughts have affected energy generation and devastated food production. This has come just after the nation fights to recover from a deadly cholera outbreak, which has currently left 700 dead with over 19,000 recorded cases.

The drought has been attributed to a particularly harsh El Nino cycle which has worsened weather conditions, with the country having gone without rain for five weeks at a time, during a time when farmers need water the most. The droughts have affected 84 out of the country’s 116 districts.

Mr Hichilema stated, “This drought has devastating consequences on many sectors such as agriculture, water availability and energy supply, risking our national food security and the livelihoods of millions of our people."

According to Mr. Hichilema, around half of the nation’s “planted area” has been destroyed.”  Mr Hichilema explained that over one million farming households will be affected by the drought as the dry spell is expected to continue in March.

According to the Zambian President, the country is expected to have a power deficit of 430 megawatts “potentially reaching 520 megawatts by December.” This is due to the drought, leading the water level to decline in the Kariba Dam, the country's main source of hydropower. This is a huge problem as Zambia is heavily reliant on hydropower with it being 90% of the country’s energy mix. To keep up with the heavy energy demand, Mr Hichilema said the country will import electricity and ration supplies to its 20 million people.

Mr Hichilema also addressed that the 2024 national budget will be re-configured so that more resources and money can be directed towards softening the impact of the droughts.

The United States Agency for International Development has stated that an estimated 20 million people in southern Africa will need food support between January and March due to the failed harvest, increased food insecurity and water insecurity brought about by the drought, estimated through their Famine Early Warning Systems Network.  

Zambia defaulted on its debt three years ago and is currently reworking its debt under the G20 Common Framework, a programme that helps low-income countries with debt overhauls.

Mr Hichilema stated, “If this process does not close, it’s not just an indictment on Zambia but the global system,” as he called for official and private creditors to swiftly conclude the debt structuring process.

Mr Hichilema also asked for assistance, calling on multinational development agencies and donor countries to provide humanitarian support, particularly food. Countries like Britain along with the UN and World Bank have already committed to providing humanitarian assistance to Zambia, he said.

Parts of Zambia and Southern Africa have experienced the driest February in the past 40 years. Zambia is one of the few Southern African countries to declare the droughts as a national disaster with others expected to soon follow suit. 

The El Nino climate pattern usually increases global temperatures one year after its emergence. Since it emerged in mid-2023 the effects of the El Nino climate pattern are still fuelling fires and record temperatures across the world.


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