THE SOCIAL EFFECTS OF THE DROUGHT: IT’S A NO WIN SITUATION

By Fortune Ncube
“I don’t know what to do anymore!” exclaimed the middle-aged Ndodana Mazibuko, with a melancholy voice as he lifted his beer mug for another sip.

He stopped drinking, stared into the sky as though he was about to say something to the heavens, but then seemed to put it off and turned to his drinking.

“You see Mfowethu (brother), previously when people lost their jobs in the city they would return to their rural homes and live off the land until they get another chance to head for Ntuthzdyathunqa (the name used by locals for Bulawayo). This time we were laid off because of this drought. We come home to hungry wives and children and we cannot do anything about it because of the same monster. The only thing I do now is sit here and drown my sorrows with this.’Mqomboth I (the local brew),” he said with an expression of helplessness.

Mazibuko stays in the rural community of Madlambuzi in Bulilirnangwe District, of Matabeleland province. Like most of the men in his village, he used to work in the nearby city of Bulawayo but was forced to trek back after many workers were laid off due to Jack of water and raw materials because of the drought. He is also unable to plough his field because the soil is dry and there is no rain.

He is one of the many people in southern Africa who are living in the harsh realities of the current drought whose persistency threatens family cohesion.

Domestic violence and alcohol abuse is on the increase as frustrated workers who used to spend their days at work have suddenly found themselves thrown out of jobs. A lot of families in the rural areas who used to rely on agriculture for their livelihood have been reduced to beggars and have to wait for food hand-outs from various schemes by governments and non-governmental organisations.

In Malawi some families are breaking because of the drought.

“Men, who are the heads of families, have deserted their families because they cannot fend for them,” said one social worker who works in the Thyolo and Ngabu areas in central Malawi. “Who would have thought that the drought can tear families apart?” he asked.

Most farmers recorded poor harvests, if anything at all, and many were forced to sell their livestock at give-away prices before they died from lack of grazing. The agricultural sector, which is the main employer in the region, is near total collapse as most estates and farms are either running at a loss or have been forced to retrench a large part of their workforce.

“The situation is terrible,” said a commercial farmer from Mwenezi in the eastern part of Zimbabwe, whose cattle are dying because of the lack of pastures and drinking water? “At the moment the death rate (of the cattle) is 40 percent, but by July and September we are afraid it will be 90 percent.”

One farmer with 15 000 cattle was reported to have lost more than 3 000 this year alone. Most farmers are also faced with hungry workers whom they cannot afford to pay or even feed. In South Africa alone, well over 200 000 farm labourers are threatened “with retrenchment. Most of these workers and their families have nowhere else to go. The majority of them may not even get adequate compensation after losing their jobs.

The president of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZl). John Deary, last month announced that at least 15 000 employees from industries affiliated to his organi”3tion may be retrenched because of the drought. He said the reason was the combined effect of the shortage of water and raw materials, and that of electrical power due the impending power-cuts by the country’s electricity supply authority.

The main source of electricity in the region is hydro power. However the region’s hydro-electrical power stations are running at low capacity because of diminished water levels in the rivers, lakes and dams.

“In view of the crisis and the disastrous situation created by the current drought…to remove this deficit the government will cut electricity exports to neighbouring countries,” Zambian Energy Minister, Alfeyo Hambayi, said in April.

Zambia used to export electricity to Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe. These countries are now contemplating load-shedding which will result in the industries in these countries laying off more
workers.

Increased unemployment has worsened the hardships of many families. The famine has also resulted in some rural people moving to the urban areas, further increasing the number of “street people”. Street kids and beggars were already a social problem in most towns and cities in the region due to lack of accommodation, civil strife and general poor economic conditions.

Some schools in the region have had to be closed and many children placed under special feeding schemes. More than 69 000 children in Zimbabwe’s Midlands province under the age of five are
undernourished with official estimates indicating that 1.5 million children throughout the whole country may be facing the same predicament.

“This drought is straining our already tight social services budget, said an official of Zimbabwe’s department of Social Welfare. “Our office has been saturated with all kinds of cases. We have not received reports of people dying of hunger yet but there are reports of people in some remote areas of the country who are living on roots and berries. Some have given up hope!”

The whole of southern Africa is expected to import more than 10 million tonnes of cereals with the help of the international community. Social scientists have, however, argued that the food aid alone may not be able to curb the devastating effects of the current drought.

Family life in most rural and urban communities in the region is threatened with the negative effects of the drought. If adequate assistance from their governments and the international community is not given immediately, the consequences could be catastrophic. (SARDC)


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