The spectre of want is haunting Zimbabwe, Zambia and South Africa as they grapple with a long and devastating drought.
AFP reporters who travelled across the three countries saw widespread suffering in rural areas where successive harvests have been hit by lack of rain or shortened rainfall seasons.
Across the 16-nation southern African region, 45 million people are “gravely food insecure,” the World Food Programme (WFP) said on January 16. In some regions, the drought is three years old — in others, five.
In the Zambian village of Simumbwe, hundreds waited for food to be distributed by the NGO World Vision and the UN.
“The children ask me: ‘What are we going to eat?'” said Loveness Haneumba, a mother of five.
“I answer: ‘Just wait. Let me look around’.”
A teacher, Teddy Siafweba, said about 15 children in his class were absent that day because of hunger. In the classroom next door, about 30 were missing — nearly half of the rollcall of 70.
In South Africa’s Northern Cape province, at the gateway of the Kalahari desert, the wild animals are used to extreme temperatures but even they are succumbing to the conditions.
According to Wildlife Ranching South Africa, two-thirds of wild animals in the province have died in the last three years.
In two years, half of the 4,500 buffaloes, hippopotamuses and kudus at the Thuru Lodge game farm near Groblershoop have disappeared.
The average rainfall here is 250 millimetres (one inch) a year.
“But 250 millimetres, that’s what we have had in five years,” said its manager, Burger Schoeman.
At the top of a hill that overlooked the 22,000-hectare (54,000-acre) private reserve, two huge holes served as mass graves.
The drought represents a financial black hole for the lodge, which spends 200,000 rand (12,000 euros) per month to feed the animals while cancelling the reservations of tourists on the lookout for “trophies.”
“We need to offer a fair hunt. Hunters can’t shoot weak animals,” said Schoeman.
Johan Steenkamp, a 52-year-old farmer with a spread of 6,000 hectares, said he had lost up to 70 percent of his stock.
Sheep still give birth, but they abandon their newborn lambs.
“They have no milk,” Steenkamp said. “They leave them there.”
Hand-in-hand with the desperation are signs of hope as some farmers adapt to climate shock.
Three years ago, Imelda Hicoombolwa, a single Zambian mother and small farmer, gambled on agricultural diversification, opting for nutritious vegetables and using techniques adapted to climate change.
“Food is not a problem. I have it,” she beamed.
Before 2017, Hicoombolwa cultivated almost only maize. Today, she harvests cowpeas, which need very little water, as well as peanuts, pumpkins and sunflowers.
“I can make 18,000 kwacha (1,100 euros, $1,222) a year. Before, I was making 8,000 kwacha a year,” she said. “Before, the children were missing school because I could not always pay the tuition fees. Not any more.”