Monday, March 28, 2016

Ethiopia experiencing ‘worst drought in 30 years’ due to El Niño conditions – UN report

Ethiopia experiencing ‘worst drought in 30 years’ due to El Niño conditions – UN report

Dry earth in the desert plains of the Danakil depression in northern Ethiopia. Photo: Siegfried Modola/IRIN
27 October 2015 – Ethiopia is experiencing its worst drought in 30 years according to the United Nations, with levels of acute need across all humanitarian sectors having already exceeded levels seen in the Horn of Africa drought of 2011, and which are projected to become far more severe in 2016.
A recent report published by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) noted that the impact of the failed spring rains was compounded by the arrival of the El Niño weather conditions that weakened summer rains, which feed 80 to 85 per cent of the country.
“This greatly expanded food insecurity, malnutrition and devastated livelihoods across six affected regions of the country,” OCHA indicated.
Meanwhile, the water level of Wabishabelle River, in Somali region, has reportedly been rising since the past week following El Niño-caused heavy rains in the surrounding highlands, and in East and West Imy woredas of Shabelle zone.
OCHA recalled that last week, the river broke its banks in East Imy woreda causing communities along the river bank to be engulfed by water. According to the Somali region Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Bureau, 700 households from Diray kebele, East Imy woreda are taking refuge in East Imy town. The Government and partners are monitoring the situation to identify intervention needs.
At the same time, local authorities in Mustahil and Kelafo woredas of Shabelle zone, which are administrative divisions affected by recurrent drought, were alerted about the rising river level. OCHA said mass community awareness will be conducted ahead of the floods in order to mitigate their impact. In addition, the National Flood Taskforce is currently preparing flood contingency plans for all at-risk areas in the country.
The UN is further highlighting that its humanitarian team in Ethiopia and the Government have held a series of briefings with donor partners – separately and together – to raise the alarm on the on-going El Niño caused drought emergency and to warn about what is coming ahead.
“The active and consistent communication with donors is bearing fruit in terms of triggering donor interest and few pledges, although still insignificant in relation to the need,” OCHA stated.
“Sweden, Norway, Canada, Switzerland, Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States have or will step-in with contributions in response to the emergency. Others are looking to re-program development budgets for emergency response or activate a crisis modifier,” it added.
Given the expected increase in relief food needs following a recent assessment, the Government has also urged donor support to ensure a healthy food pipeline for the coming months. During the 2002 El Niño year, much of the required food aid was reportedly not delivered until late February 2003, leading to a doubling of moderate and severe acute malnutrition rates, which is three times more expensive than prevention.

Alert: Hunger crisis deepening in 34 African countries

 The UN agencies and African Union experts are expected to later this month meet in Zimbabwe to draw up plans to avert severe food crises in 27 African countries where millions need food aid. At least 4 million Zimbabweans urgently need assistance.

A committee comprised of UN agencies, government officials, and NGO activists, last year concluded that 1.5 million needed food aid. They also appealed for $1.6 billion (1.5 billion euros) in aid to help pay for grain and other food 
The latest report released by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says 34 countries around the world need food assistance due to droughts, flooding and ongoing conflicts. Among those countries, 27 are located in Africa. That report notes that the regions most in need of humanitarian support are eastern and southern Africa. In Southern Africa, 49 million there face hunger this year due to drought exacerbated by an El Nino weather pattern.
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) says at least 17 percent of Malawians are affected. Prices for maize, the nation’s staple crop, are already more than 60 percent above the 3-year average for this time of the year, making it increasingly difficult for many people to buy food.
The WFP says the inflation rate in the region is at 23.5 per cent and its currency is on average 170 per cent higher than its exchange rate against the US dollar compared to the same period last year. According to a report by the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee, it is estimated that about 2.8 million people in the country are in need of food aid following last season’s dry spell and floods.
The United Nations has warned that Tanzania is among countries that might be severely affected by El Niño weather phenomenon this year.
According to UN Under- Secretary-General for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs,   Stephen O’Brien, the period in which Tanzania might be affected is between January and March. Other countries that are also at the risk of being affected by El Nino include Madagascar, Malawi and Mozambique.
In most countries poor rains had resulted in drought like conditions in the northern parts of East African countries, mostly Ethiopia, Sudan, Djibouti and Eritrea, while other parts of the region had experienced a wetter than normal season.
By early 2016, projections indicate that at least 22 million people will be food insecure across the region and between 2.7 million and 3.5 million people could be affected by floods. The UN relief chief further said Ethiopia was the country most affected so far as it faces the worst drought in 30 years.
Tanzania Meteorological Agency (TMA) had earlier warned the public to remain alert over the looming El Nino threat, saying the rains may continue until April, this year

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Campaign kicks off against Ethiopia drought

Wheat Destined for Ethiopia's Hungry Stuck in Port Logjams - Bloomberg Business

Wheat Destined for Ethiopia's Hungry Stuck in Port Logjams - Bloomberg Business: "t least 10 ships are waiting to unload 450,000 tons of wheat
Grain ships taking about 40 days to unload: Save the Children
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Food supplies flowing to Ethiopia during the country’s growing hunger crisis are meeting a major challenge: they can’t get to people fast enough.
Ethiopia is doubling its wheat purchases after the harshest drought in half a century, causing bottlenecks of ships at the country’s main port in neighboring Djibouti. At least 10 vessels are waiting to unload about 450,000 metric tons of wheat, according to information on the port’s website and ship-tracking data on Bloomberg. One carrying 50,000 tons of wheat and sorghum is berthed.

"There’s a whole bunch of ships that are lined up,” John Graham, the Ethiopia director for Save the Children, said by phone from Dire Dawa on Tuesday. "The numbers of berths allocated is not adequate so far."
Ethiopia, sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest wheat consumer, is grappling with a growing food problem as the lack of rain erodes harvests of everything from sorghum to wheat, forcing the country to launch international tenders. Droughts in the country have become more frequent and severe in the past decade, and the effects from El Nino weather patterns have wreaked havoc across many parts of Africa.
Congested Ports
It takes about 40 days to unload ships carrying grain, which is used to feed people in Ethiopia’s urban centers, according to Save the Children. In total, it can take around 120 days to purchase and transport food into the country through Djibouti, the British charity said in a February report.
In Ethiopia, among the world’s poorest countries, the number of people living with hunger has more than doubled since August to more than 10 million, according to the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization. The number is higher when you add the 7.9 million supported by a government safety-net program. There are expected to be at least 450,000 severely malnourished Ethiopians this year, according to Save the Children.
The nation has historically struggled with hunger, including in the 1980s, when famine and civil war left hundreds of thousands of people dead.
Wheat Imports
In October, Ethiopia sought 1 million tons of wheat, more than it bought last season, according to estimates by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Another tender for almost 500,000 tons will close on Friday.
"Of course it is congested," Mitiku Kassa, who heads Ethiopia’s disaster relief agency, said by phone on Tuesday, adding that each berth at the port has the capacity to unload around 3,000 tons of grain a day. "However, fertilizer and wheat have been given due priority."
The Carly Manx vessel, scheduled to arrive at the port on Feb. 22, is only now berthed. The Ince Beylerbeyi, initially set to reach the port on Feb. 19, is still waiting to unload 54,250 tons of wheat.
Further purchases in the tender may add to long waiting times at the port of Djibouti, which land-locked Ethiopia uses to bring in supplies. Imports will jump to 2.5 million tons in the season ending in September, up from 900,000 tons a year earlier, the USDA estimates.
The government is adding trucks, and building distribution points and temporary warehouses to meet monthly food delivery targets, Mitiku said. The operation is also being delayed by regular government assessments of who the most needy are, Save the Children’s Graham said.
"There has been a slow start to food deliveries this year," Graham said. "We still need to prepare for a spike in severe malnutrition."
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Friday, March 25, 2016

, Ethiopia in Drought Crisis unseen proportion

, Ethiopia in Drought Crisis unseen proportion 

Ethiopia in Drought Crisis
Business Matters
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The Ethiopian government struggles to cope in the face of a devastating drought gripping the country, as more than ten million people are in need of humanitarian food assistance. In neighbouring Somalia, the Shabelle river has run dry for the first time in recorded history. It provides almost all the water for the rice fields in the eastern half of the country - but now children are playing in the riverbed while their parents walk miles to collect water from boreholes. Charlie Mason is Humanitarian Director of Save the Children Ethiopia.

The Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak, has been embroiled for months in a financial scandal. Hundreds of millions of dollars went into his personal bank account - but he's refused to resign. He says he's done nothing wrong. Michael Bristow looks at how the Prime Minister has managed to hold on to power.

The latest round of talks between the Syrian government and the opposition groups has broken up for a pre-arranged break - and is due to resume next month. If peace does come after six years of war, one of the most important things to fix will be the plague of landmines and other explosive ordnance. Even after a conflict ends, these endlessly patient killers put a freeze on commerce and agriculture - and kill adults and children with complete impartiality. Hugh Morris - head of the mine clearance company The Development Initiative - talks about the huge challenge ahead.

For the first time, developing countries are spending more on green technology than rich countries. A UN report says a record amount was invested in renewable energy in 2015 - almost 300 billion dollars - with developing countries increasing their funding by 19 percent. Meanwhile in rich countries, the total spend actually fell - despite a big rise in the United States. Profesor Ulf Moslener from the Frankfurt School of Finance is one of the report's authors.

Fergus Nicoll is joined throughout the programme by Angela Mancini, Vice-President of Control Risks, in Singapore, and Ralph Silva of the Silva Research Network in Toronto.

Image: a rotten carcass in the desert. Credit: Getty Images.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

It’s been 100 years since S. African fields were this dry, 50 for Ethiopia— maize becomes a luxury, and a window into Africa's economy | MG Africa

The paradox is that the rest of the world is enjoying a glut, and some of the lowest food and transport prices yet.
THE corn that is a food staple for much of southern Africa is now so expensive it has become a luxury many can’t afford, after the worst drought in three decades damaged crops from Ethiopia to South Africa.
And it is a situation that has many of the elements that underpin the African economy—dependence on agriculture, trade barriers, declining commodity prices, currency weaknesses, conflict and even the opposition to genetically modified foods.
In Malawi, one of a dozen nations affected by the dry spell, Meleniya Mateyu says she has to forage for wild water-lily roots called nyika from streams and swamps to feed her two orphaned grandchildren. The small amount of grain she gets from an aid agency is barely enough for them to eat during one meal a day.
“We are surviving on nyika,” Mateyu said in an interview at her village in the southern district of Chikwawa, about 50 kilometres (31 miles) south of the capital, Blantyre. “This year’s hunger is the worst I’ve seen in 10 years.”
The drought—a symptom of the global El Nino weather pattern—is shrinking grain production across southern and eastern Africa and increasing the risk of widening hunger for some of the poorest populations in the world. Of the 34 countries that will require food aid this year, 27 are on the continent, United Nations’ Food & Agriculture Organisation data show. And the need is growing even as the rest of the planet enjoys a grain glut and shrinking food costs.
The situation may be the worst since southern Africa’s last major food crisis in 2002-2003, with 28 million people already contending with hunger, according to January figures provided by the UN’s humanitarian affairs agency. 


The World Food Programme says that as many as 50 million people may eventually be affected in the region. Another 10 million people are at risk in Ethiopia because of drought, along with millions more in conflict-ridden countries including South Sudan and Central African Republic.
While the UN says the region is having its worst drought in 35 years, it’s been a century since fields were this dry in South Africa, the biggest grower on the continent, and five decades for Ethiopia. That’s compounding the strain on a part of the world where more than 40% of the people live at or below the international poverty line of $1.90 a day, according to the World Bank.

Ethiopia is struggling from its worst drought for 30 years (AFP Photo/Joel Robine)
Even with global food costs tracked by the UN dropping to a seven-year low, few in southern Africa are benefiting. The logistics of getting supplies from sea ports to landlocked markets in Malawi and Zimbabwe increases the cost. Like many other countries in the region, South Africa’s buying power is eroded by its weakening currency. And the economies of Angola and Zambia have been hit by struggling oil and mining industries.
“Importing food for many of these countries is going to be much more costly now than it was a year ago,” said Debbie Hillier, a humanitarian policy officer at Oxfam International in Oxford, England. “Countries have suffered very seriously from the decline in commodity prices.”

Costs may double

Food costs may double in Zimbabwe, which will need to import as much as 1 million metric tons of grain, said Steve Wiggins, a research fellow at the U.K.’s Overseas Development Institute. While ocean freight costs are low, the country has to import through South Africa and Mozambique. In a normal production year, local wholesale corn in Zimbabwe would cost about $120 to $150 a ton, but prices will probably be at least $100 higher this year with the added transportation costs, he said.
“The country in the region that is just looking down the barrel is Zimbabwe,” Wiggins said. “The bottom 10 to 20 percent of Zimbabweans will be in terrible straits in terms of sorting out their food during 2016.”
To make matters worse, regional stockpiles are already depleted. Grain production fell 21 percent last year across southern and eastern Africa, and prospects for the next harvest, which begins in April and May, are “acutely unfavourable,” the FAO said March 9. South Africa predicts the harvest will be half what it produced two years ago and that the country will have to import corn to feed itself.
Even with the drought, southern Africa is producing more grain than two decades ago, doubling corn output since 1998, U.S. Department of Agriculture data show.

Staring down barrel

Countries and international organisations have already started to prepare for a crisis by stepping up imports and calling on donors for aid. Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most populous nation, has appealed for $1.4 billion from international donors. The government has been buying up wheat in global markets since at least October, including a tender for 500,000 tonnes this week. The USDA forecasts the country’s wheat imports will nearly triple this year.
Zimbabwe declared a national disaster last month and asked for $1.6 billion in aid. The government says it’s secured about half of the corn it needs so far after agreeing to import from Zambia and Ukraine.
All that aid still may not be enough to prevent shortages, especially for white corn, the variety used to make thick porridges known as nshima or pap, which some people in southern Africa eat for almost every meal.

Ban GMO-imports

Most corn harvested around the world is the yellow variety used primarily as livestock feed or to make ethanol. Outside of southern Africa, only Mexico is a major producer of white maize, and it doesn’t have a lot to export, according to Oxfam. 
In addition, many southern African countries have laws prohibiting imports of genetically modified corn, which rules out much of the supply from the US, the world’s top exporter.
The effects of El Nino are expected to weaken over the next few months, according to the U.S. Climate Prediction Center. But it will be too late to save crops across southern Africa.
Tendai Mhishi, a 50-year-old corn farmer in Runhanga Village, Zimbabwe, said his crop this year was a total write off. He and his six children have been skipping meals in order to ration food.
“There are days one of my kids refuses to go to school all because of hunger,” Mhishi said in an interview. “This year, things have been really tough. 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

El Niño Upsets Seasons and Upends Lives Worldwide - The New York Times


The Banado Sur neighborhood in Asunción, Paraguay, last month. The most recent storms fueled by El Niño swelled the Paraguay River to its highest level since 1983. CreditAndres Cristaldo/European Pressphoto Agency

In rural villages in Africa and Asia, and in urban neighborhoods in South America, millions of lives have been disrupted by weather linked to the strongest El Niño in a generation.
In some parts of the world, the problem has been not enough rain; in others, too much. Downpours were so bad in Paraguay’s capital, Asunción, that shantytowns sprouted along city streets, filled with families displaced by floods. But farmers in India had the opposite problem: Reduced monsoon rains forced them off the land and into day-labor jobs.
In South Africa, a drought hit farmers so hard that the country, which a few years ago was exporting corn to Asian markets, now will have to buy millions of tons of it from Brazil and other South American countries.
“They will actually have to import it, which is rare,” said Rogerio Bonifacio, a climate analyst with the World Food Program, a United Nations agency. “This is a major drought.”
The World Health Organization has estimated that worldwide, El Niño-related weather is putting 60 million people at increased risk of malnutrition, water- and mosquito-borne diseases, and other illnesses.
Scientists began reporting early signs of El Niño conditions early last year, based on changes in surface-water temperatures and atmospheric pressure in the equatorial Pacific. By midyear, the World Meteorological Organization declared that El Niño was in full swing and that it was on track to be the strongest such event since 1997-98.
An El Niño occurs on average every two to seven years, when warm Pacific water shifts eastward, creating an immense warm zone in the central and eastern Pacific. This adds heat and moisture to the air, which condenses high in the atmosphere, releasing energy that affects the high-altitude winds known as jet streams that circle the planet. The warmer the ocean, the more energy that can potentially be released.
One effect of the energy is that it alters the course of a jet stream. In the Northern Hemisphere, this can bring more winter storms to the southern United States, including Southern California.
But adding all that energy to the upper atmosphere can also introduce a ripple in a jet stream that may affect weather halfway around the world. “It’s like waving a paddle back and forth in the stream and generating planetary-scale atmospheric waves,” said Michael McPhaden, a senior scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
That leads to patterns of precipitation, or lack of it, that can pop up in far-flung regions at different times — heavy rains in south-central South America from September to January, increased dryness in Central America for much of the year and a reduced summer monsoon in India, among other effects.
Because these patterns often recur in different El Niño years, the effects can be predictable. Nonetheless, they can still test the ability of governments and aid agencies to respond.


Bessly Nchoe worked in his garden near Coligny in South Africa. The government estimates that the corn crop there will be 27 percent lower than it was last year. CreditJoao Silva/The New York Times

El Niño often affects parts of Ethiopia, for example, and this time was no exception. It is among the countries worst hit by drought, Dr. Bonifacio said, with as many as 10 million people in need of food assistance. Yet Ethiopia is handling the problems largely on its own. “They made a decided effort to deal with the situation,” he said.
But as the lack, so far, of prolonged rains in Southern California this winter shows, the effects of El Niño can still be difficult to forecast.
Dr. Bonifacio noted, for instance, that the Sahel in Africa often suffers drought in El Niño summers, but last year, after a dry June, rains picked up. “From July onward, things just flipped over completely,” he said.
El Niño does not just affect people. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said this month that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere — an important climate-change measurement — had the greatest year-to-year increase in 56 years, and that the rise was partly because of the effect of El Niño-related weather on vegetation. More drought, for example, means less growth of plants that absorb carbon dioxide from the air.
Here is a closer look at how El Niño has disrupted life in different parts of the world.

A Blow to India’s Monsoons

MAHOBA DISTRICT, India — For the first time in his life, Jeevan Lal Yadav has been getting his wheat and vegetables from the market five miles away, rather from than his own farm.
Mr. Yadav, 43, has not been able to grow anything this past year on the five acres he cultivates here in the heart of northern India, parts of which are experiencing a severe drought.
He is one of millions struggling after a strong El Niño led to reduced rain from the southwest monsoons.
Continue reading the main story
Rainfall in 2015 from monsoons, which sweep over most of India from June to September, was 14 percent below the average. The reduction was more than 40 percent in some areas, including India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, where Mr. Yadav lives.
Because most Indians are farmers, and a majority rely entirely on the monsoon rains, a blow to the rainy season is devastating, rendering lives barely recognizable.
Instead of guarding his annual harvest against wild buffalo, as he has done for as long as he can remember, these days Mr. Yadav sits among a crowd outside the door of the village headman, hoping to get picked for a public works program that pays 161 rupees (about $2.40) a day. His name is called every other day at best, he said.
“I’ve never seen something like this,” he said, outside his two-room mud hut in Thurat, a village of several hundred homes surrounded by dried ponds and mostly barren fields that in years past were green with a harvest of wheat and lentils at this time of year. “It’s all dry. I didn’t even sow the seeds.”
Compounding the effects of the El Niño-induced drought this past year is that much of India also suffered from mild El Niño in 2014 that reduced monsoon rainfall by 12 percent. Two successive years of drought hit farmers so hard that Prime Minister Narendra Modi focused his annual budgetmessage last month on programs to improve crop insurance and credit, build irrigation systems and continue the rural employment program on which Mr. Yadav now relies.


A farmer in 2014 tended to his sugar cane in Uttar Pradesh, India, where last year the rainfall from monsoons was more than 40 percent below average. CreditAnindito Mukherjee/Reuters

These programs have existed to varying degrees for years in rural India but have been inadequate, said Vineet Kumar, a climate change officer at the Center for Science and Environment, a New Delhi nonprofit organization that studies farmers’ problems. He said Mr. Modi’s plans had the potential to help farmers but would be too late for millions like Mr. Yadav.
D. S. Pai, the deputy director general of the long-term monsoon forecasting division at the Indian Meteorological Department, said India predicted the blow to the summer monsoon, which had happened in previous El Niño years. (This El Niño was also linked to heavier-than-normal rainfall last fall in the southern tip of India and Sri Lanka.)
Dr. Pai said his department worked with district officials to inform farmers by text message of long-term predictions and warned them about more immediate outbreaks of bad weather.
Mr. Kumar, of the nonprofit group, said that though the warnings may be issued from the top, there was not enough coordination in many states and districts for the news to reach farmers on time.
And so Pratap Singh, 65, in the Kidhari village, also in the Mahoba district, had not been alerted when, after months of dry weather, rain suddenly arrived in October, soaking the small harvest of wheat he had laid out to dry. The heavy rainfall rotted the 220 pounds of grain, which was only 20 percent of his usual harvest, he said.
Now, with no harvest at all, Mr. Singh said, he and his two adult sons are working when they can as day laborers at a brick kiln. The days they are not hired, he said, they just sit around “whiling away our time — there’s nothing to do.”
Mr. Yadav, the farmer working in the government jobs program, said he prayed for water every morning and evening. He does not pray for anything else, he said, because “if you have water, you have everything.”

Flooding in Paraguay

ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay — The brutal human cost of El Niño is plain to see here in Paraguay’s capital. Downtown plazas and the median strips of thoroughfares are crammed with temporary houses made of plywood, plastic sheets and corrugated steel, thrown together after heavy rains caused the worst flooding in more than three decades.
Seated one recent evening beneath black lapacho trees outside the shack that she is calling home for now — opposite this city’s 19th-century cathedral — Esther Falcón, 32, who runs a kiosk in a slum along the Paraguay River, said she had never experienced rains like those in December.
“The water came so quickly,” Mrs. Falcón said, adding that her home flooded up to about shoulder height. “We didn’t have time to save everything.”
The water has now receded, but Mrs. Falcón’s young family cannot return because the usual rains, which forecasters say should come in April, are expected to cause the still-swollen river to surge again.
About 145,000 people were forced out of their homes across Paraguay, a nation of 6.5 million, Joaquín Roa, the minister for national emergencies, said. About 60,000 people are still displaced in Asunción, he added.

Short Answers to Hard Questions About Climate Change

Despite the risk of further flooding, some people have returned home here, tired of living in the squalor of encampments, where families share portable toilets provided by the government and a United States aid agency, use buckets to shower, cook on portable charcoal stoves, and survive on infrequent handouts of rice, pasta and beans.
Paraguay is historically susceptible to floods, and sincemid-2014 Asunción has had unusually regular bouts of heavy rainfall, displacing thousands of families. Still, the most recent storms fueled by El Niño were the worst, swelling the Paraguay River to its highest level since 1983.
In the neighborhood of Santa Ana, Teresa Castro, 51, had just returned home after two months in one of the estimated 140 encampments that the authorities say have cropped up in Asunción, in addition to five government shelters on military grounds. Outside Mrs. Castro’s house, wood canoes still floated on stagnant water; inside, the floods had flaked away walls and destroyed head-high plug sockets.
“I have to start from zero,” Mrs. Castro said as she cleaned her electric oven and attended to her young grandchildren. “We wanted to come home,” she added, “even if it is only to rest for a month,” referring to the probability that she will have to leave again when the rains come in a few weeks.
Mr. Roa said the government had planned for the flooding. For instance, he said, stocks of hospital equipment were secured, and schools readied mobile buildings for future victims so children would continue to go to class. The government also prepared an aid response with the military and the police that included work to ensure that trucks with emergency supplies could reach riverside slums.
But some people stood defiant. Bernardo Olmedo, 40, who reads water meters for a living, moved his furniture upstairs as his house flooded. Refusing to abandon his home, he instead built a temporary staircase that climbed 13 feet from the street to an upstairs window. During the floods, his daily commute to work involved descending the steps, hopping onto a raft made of wood planks and polystyrene wrapped in plastic, and paddling for five minutes, out of the flood zone.
Nearby, in the neighborhood of Republicano, María Vera Villalba, 31, a recycler at Cateura — a vast landfill close to the river, where there werefears a giant pool of tainted water might overflow — said she and her family had little choice but to flee when the rains came and a stream by her home broke its banks.
Ms. Villalba said the rain had fallen hard for two consecutive mornings. After the water did not recede, as it usually did, it soon gushed into her home. Like tens of thousands of others, the family fled and built a shack in the median strip of a road beneath a willow tree, using an orange truck tarpaulin for extra protection from the elements.
Displaced residents like Ms. Villalba said the government had repeatedlyoffered them houses in safer zones outside the city. But they resist because a move would drive them away from their work and social lives.
Still, Ms. Villalba admitted that she may soon be left with no option. “It’s not a safe place anymore,” she said. “Nature is changing things.” JONATHAN GILBERT

Obstacles in South Africa

SOWETO, South Africa — On a recent evening at Esther Thobagale’s modest four-room house in this township outside Johannesburg, she was preparing pap, the traditional cornmeal porridge that is a staple food of low-income families across South Africa.
A few days before, Ms. Thobagale, who lives with her daughter and two grandsons, had learned that she was going to have to pay a much higher price for cornmeal — 80 rand (about $5.20) for a two-week supply, up from 50 rand (about $3.25). That’s a barely affordable increase for Ms. Thobagale, an unemployed grandmother who supports the household on a government pension and other income totaling 1,730 rand (about $112) a month.


“I’m now forced to cut down on nonessentials, like treats for my grandkids,” she said. “I’m forced to stick to what is important only.”


South Africa has had its worst drought in decades, emptying a water supply dam in Senekal there.CreditKim Ludbrook/European Pressphoto Agency

South Africa has suffered through its worst drought in decades. With little rain last fall during the start of the growing season, the country’s biggest crop, corn, has been hit hard.
Although rainfall amounts have increased in the last few weeks, the government estimates that the soon-to-be-harvested crop will be 27 percent lower than last year’s.
A retail price survey by the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy at the University of Pretoria found that cornmeal prices had increased by about 19 percent and were expected to rise an additional 10 percent by the end of March. Those were nationwide averages, however; the price of Ms. Thobagale’s cornmeal increased by 60 percent.
The World Bank estimates that the drought has pushed 50,000 more South Africans below the poverty line of about $32 a month. But even for those who can afford to pay higher prices, there may not be enough corn to meet demand.
Wandile Sihlobo, an economist at the corn farmers’ lobby group Grain SA, said current estimates are that South Africa would be forced to import more than four million tons of corn from Mexico and Brazil and other South American countries to meet the demand.
Part of the problem, said Shukri Ahmed, an official with the Food and Agriculture Organization, is that corn yields were down in early 2015, too.
“Last year there was a 30 percent decline,” Mr. Ahmed said. “So there was already some strain in the market.”
South Africa grows far more corn than any other country in southern Africa, and regularly exports to many of its neighbors. Mr. Ahmed said the 2015 crop decline had wiped out any surplus available for export, putting some of these countries’ populations at risk. “This is now one of the biggest worries for us,” he said.
Mr. Sihlobo said that of the corn that South Africa will import, about 700,000 tons would be sent on to Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland.
But other countries in the region have been badly affected by the drought as well, including Zimbabwe, which probably has a shortfall of about 1.3 million tons, Mr. Sihlobo said. “The question is where is this going to come from,” he said. “This might put added pressure on South Africa.”
The drought has caused economic hardship for South Africa’s farmers as well. In North West Province, one of several in which the South African government has declared a disaster, Thean Geldenhuys, a corn farmer, said his income was down by 75 percent because of the drought.
Mr. Geldenhuys has had to turn away the seasonal workers who come to his farm every year, he said.
“It’s sad because most of these people won’t go away,” he said. “They are outside my farm every day hoping to be employed. There is simply no work and no money to pay them.” XOLI MOLOI