FILE PHOTO: Cracks are seen in the dried up municipal dam in drought-stricken Graaff-Reinet, South Africa, November 14, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings/File Photo

HARARE, May 22 (Reuters) – The U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) needs $400 million to feed millions of people in Southern Africa following a drought that plunged parts of the region into hunger, the programme said on Wednesday.

The WFP told Reuters it needed urgent funding for six months to support drought relief in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi, after harvests fell as a result of an El Niño-induced drought that has affected 4.8 million people.

El Niño, a weather phenomenon that disrupts wind patterns and warms the temperature in parts of the Pacific Ocean, can impact crop yields by reducing rain levels.

“It’s fair to say this will probably be the biggest El Niño response we have ever done in Southern Africa,” WFP spokesperson Tomson Phiri told Reuters.

About 70% of the Southern African population that relies on rain-fed agriculture had their harvests “wiped out” by lack of rains, Phiri added.

Phiri said the WFP, which also provides cash payouts for hungry communities, is looking to buy grain from outside markets.

In August last year WFP spent $14 million to support communities in Lesotho, Madagascar, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, Phiri said.


Successive droughts in the region have caused dwindling grain stocks, forcing affected countries like Zimbabwe to obtain grain abroad.

A group of private millers in Zimbabwe are planning to import 1.4 million metric tonnes of maize from Brazil, Argentina and other countries to help address hunger.

In Zimbabwe Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube said the government will receive a $32 million insurance payout for drought relief from the African Union Climate Agency.

Ncube said part of the funding will be used as cash transfers for vulnerable communities with some going to humanitarian agencies to provide support for procuring food.

(Reporting by Nyasha Chingono; Editing by Tannur Anders, William Maclean)