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Calling for coordinated policy priorities to address the plight of learners  in Zambia amidst drought.

By Bernadette Deka Zulu- Founder & CEO, Shaping Futures Zambia (PhD Researcher)

Overview of the crisis:

In February 2024, drought was declared in Zambia. This drought has impacted nearly  84 out of 116 districts across the country, affecting all ten provinces. Climate change and El Niño are driving these harsh conditions, resulting in below-average rainfall through the 2023-2024 farming season.

The Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR) recently shared in a report, that as of March 6 2024, over six million people from farming households are at risk of acute food shortages and malnutrition until the next planting season in December. This fact  puts Zambia at a critical vulnerable position.

Concerns in Agriculture:

Reduced rainfall during the El Niño has led  to diminished crop yields, posing significant threats to food security and livelihoods. This  also means that Smallholder farmers are facing heightened vulnerabilities. Coordinated efforts to promote drought-resistant crops, sustainable water management, and climate-smart agriculture enhance resilience.

Health and Social Impacts/WASH Concerns

As dwindling water sources heighten the risk of waterborne diseases, the WASH sector need to enhance sanitation measures and access to clean drinking water especially in schools be it in rural communities or peri-urban areas where water and sanitation remains a concern.

These economic hardships from agricultural losses connect with other factors that are exacerbating poverty rates and are contribute to social unrest, more so for the school going children.

Water Resource Management

The scarcity of water is on the rise, affecting both surface water and groundwater reservoirs. Furthermore, reduced  river flows and depleted water tables intensify competition for water resources among various sectors. At this point, sustainable water management practices and investments in irrigation infrastructure become imperative.

Nutritional Needs/Food Security:

The drought has brought about vulnerability nutritional-wise for the majority Zambians, especially children and women in rural areas. Reduced rainfall and crop failures have led to widespread food shortages, making it challenging for households to access adequate nutrition. Malnutrition is looming again just like in the 1991-1993 period; weakening children’s immune systems while increasing their susceptibility to illness. The impact is more severe in rural areas.

Impact on Education:

The drought’s effects extend beyond nutrition. Children drop out of school to help their families find food, and those who do attend school often struggle with poor concentration due to hunger. Others are simply unable to attend classes due to malnutrition attacks.

Addressing the Crisis:

There is need to heighten efforts to mitigate the effects of the drought on learners’ nutrition. This means implementing policies that provide financial support during droughts protect vulnerable households and employ coordinated safety nets prevent families from falling deeper into poverty.

Farmers are encouraged to cultivate drought-tolerant and nutritious crops such as cassava, orange maize, cowpeas, and groundnuts.

Heightened Provision of School Meals:

Despite some efforts fostered by several humanitarian groups and organizations, some children are surviving on meager diets, including boiled waterlily roots, nuts, and wild fruits. Therefore, school meals, water access, and health services play crucial role.

Implications in the regional context

Evidently, Zambia as major maize exporter in the region, faces challenges that could last until early 2025. This means that the Zambian economy will bear the burden of loss of income caused by lack or less productivity. This is a crisis that highlights the need for rainwater harvesting, a practice that is not common in Zambia.

Political Will and Implementation

In conclusion, to coordinate policies that will help improve nutritional health and supply for learners across the country, calls for strong political commitment. This is a situation that needs urgent action to address both food security and educational disruptions caused by this crisis.

 Therefore, targeting social safety nets and community resilience-building initiatives becomes crucial at this stage.

The Ministries of Education, Health and Community Development & Social Services need to consolidate their policy priorities in order to effectively respond to these challenges. Above all, the crisis calls for every able Zambian to do their part in helping the next person in need.

(bernadettedekazulu@gmail.com)

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