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"The fish in the river are gone"- Fishing communities devastated by El Nino-induced drought, as Zimbabwe joins Malawi and Zambia in declaring a state of disaster, and ActionAid urges emergency action 

Over 20 million people in Southern Africa are facing a severe food security crisis due to the El Nino-induced drought. Affecting crop and livestock production as well as water availability in the region, according to a report by UNOCHA, the region is faced with a food insecurity crisis that threatens the health and well-being of millions, particularly young children, pregnant women, and the elderly. 

On 3 April 2024, Zimbabwe declared the drought a state of disaster and appealed for $2 billion to tackle hunger. The country joins Zambia and Malawi in declaring the drought a state of disaster. 

ActionAid is calling for urgent action to address the crisis, including providing food assistance and supporting alternative income generation activities.   

"The drought situation is dire and exposes millions of already vulnerable groups particularly women and young people to hunger. The declaration of disaster in the three countries opens avenues for humanitarian organisations to intervene, and we must coordinate our efforts to ensure timely humanitarian assistance reaches those who need it the most," said Esther Sharara, ActionAid's Regional Humanitarian Advisor in Southern Africa. 

Low rainfall across the region has resulted in reduced water levels in local fishing areas, significantly decreasing fish populations and making it increasingly difficult for fishers to catch enough to feed their families and earn a living. 

According to the Zambezi River Authority, the water level recorded at Victoria Falls during the third week of March 2024 was 75 percent less than the same period last year. 

In Sesheke District, Zambia, where ActionAid supports fisherwomen, there are concerns about rising poverty as the main source of their livelihood, the Zambezi River, has reduced fish output compared to previous years because of the drought.    

Juliet Kamwi, a local fisherwoman in Sesheke echoed the sentiments of many as she reflected on the drastic changes that have befallen her community.  

"The fish in the river are gone, everything has changed. We used to rely on the river to support our families, and to send our children to school. But now life has become uncertain. We don't know how we will survive." 

The dwindling fish stocks come at a time when food insecurity is already on the rise due to crop failures caused by the drought.  

"These fishing communities rely heavily on fish for both food and income. While immediate food relief is crucial, there is a need to invest in long-term solutions that ensure the sustainability of their livelihoods," said Jovina Nawenzake,Interim Executive Director at ActionAid Zambia. 

Already battling high costs of living in the region, this situation is pushing communities deeper into poverty and hunger. Urgent humanitarian response is required to avert a crisis. 

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