UN Coordinator for El Niño and UNICEF Regional Director Call for international solidarity and support for drought-stricken Zambia

05 April 2024

Lusaka, 5 April 2024 – Reena Ghelani, the UN Assistant Secretary General and Climate Crisis Coordinator for the El Niño / La Niña response and Eva Kadilli, UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, called for international solidarity and urged for concerted efforts to support the humanitarian response during their visit to Zambia, which concluded today.

Children and communities in Zambia need urgent support as the country faces a severe drought induced by El Niño, while still battling to recover from a historic cholera outbreak.

The UN representatives met with Government and local partners involved in ongoing efforts to address both the drought and the cholera outbreak and heard from communities and NGOs working on the frontlines of the humanitarian crisis.

Communities affected by the drought need immediate support in terms of cash and food assistance. At the same time, we must help them become more resilient to climate shocks. The farmers we met who are using climate-smart techniques have been able to harvest some crops despite the drought. This shows us the importance of investing in climate adaptation for countries like Zambia that will face more frequent and severe droughts in the future,” warned Reena Ghelani.

This mission followed a recent declaration by President Hakainde Hichilema of a State of Emergency and National Disaster, noting that 84 of the country’s 116 districts were affected by the prolonged drought and 1 million acres of crops, about half the country’s planted area, had been destroyed.

Experts have warned that the drought will impact food production and electricity generation. Communities in Zambia rely mainly on hydropower, and its consequences could last until the end of the lean season in early 2025. The crisis could have regional implications as well, because Zambia is a major maize exporter in the region.

The Zambian Government has reported over 22,400 cholera cases since last year and more than 720 deaths. Over 8 million people are exposed to severe and intense drought and 6 million people are at risk of food insecurity, who are to be targeted in the response according to the El Niño Impact assessment, with about 40,000 people facing emergency levels of food insecurity.

“Children are the most impacted by climate shocks, and the impacts of El Niño in the region have been devastating. In Zambia, a large number of the population in need, about 3 million, are children. Throughout the visit, we have been able to interact with community members, including female farmers. They are worried for their children as the drought could lead to an increase in malnutrition cases.  This will require immediate attention and UNICEF is ready to scale up our response in country, in coordination with the Government, the UN family and partners,” said Eva Kadilli. 

Preliminary assessments indicate that over half of households surveyed have either no food stock left or less than one month supply available, and that more than 57 per cent of households assessed are already employing crisis and emergency level coping strategies.

The United Nations in Zambia has put together a multi-hazard preparedness and response plan to support Government-led efforts, and is calling upon international partners to join forces with the UN, to be able to provide emergency assistance and boost preventive measures and sustainable recovery.

Note to editors:

For photos of the visit and b-roll, click here: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1kwcW116hSLsZEwjB2MQyBbIu-yGB97TG?usp=sharing

Media contacts

Mark Maseko
National Information Officer
UN Information Centre (UNIC)
Tel: +260955767062
Priscilla Lecomte
Communications and Advocacy Lead
Office of the Climate Crisis Coordinator – El Niño response
Tel: + 254 794 32 10 34


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