Millions of people in southern Angola are facing an existential threat as drought aggravated by climate change continues to ravage the region, Amnesty International said today. The organization highlighted how the creation of commercial cattle ranches on community land has driven pastoralist communities from their land since the end of the civil war in 2002 – a shift which left huge sections of the population food insecure and paved the way for a humanitarian crisis as the acute drought persists for over three years. As food and water grow increasingly scarce, thousands have fled their homes and sought refuge in neighbouring Namibia.
Millions of people in southern Angola are on the brink of starvation, caught between the devastating effects of climate change and the land diversion to commercial cattle farmingDeprose Muchena, Amnesty International's Director for East and Southern Africa
“Millions of people in southern Angola are on the brink of starvation, caught between the devastating effects of climate change and the land diversion to commercial cattle farming,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.
“This drought – the worst in 40 years – has torn through traditional communities who had been struggling to survive since they were dispossessed of vast swathes of grazing land. The Angolan government must take responsibility for its own role in this dire situation, and ensure reparations to affected communities, and take immediate steps to address food insecurity in the rural areas of Cunene and Huíla provinces.”
According to the Association Building Communities (Associação Construindo Comunidades – ACC), a local NGO, traditional pastoralist families in the Gambos municipality of Huíla province are facing hunger. ACC reported that dozens of people had died of malnutrition since 2019, with older people and children particularly vulnerable. ACC, which has been distributing food baskets in the area, said people had resorted to eating leaves to survive.
Angolans living in the Cunene and Huíla provinces have been especially hard hit by the persistent drought. The 2020/21 rainy season was abnormally dry, meaning the situation is likely to get far worse in the coming months. According to the World Food Program (WFP), the lack of rainfall in the period between November 2020 and January 2021 has already caused the worst drought in the last 40 years.
The drought has made the lives of traditional pastoralist communities very difficult and hunger has driven thousands across the Namibian border since the start of March 2021, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
The IFRC reported that Namibian local authorities had recorded a total of 894 Angolan nationals in the Omusati and Kunene regions by March 2021. On 14 March 2021, the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation reported that large numbers of pastoralist families from Huíla and Cunene provinces had abandoned their homes to seek refuge in northern Namibia. In May 2021, Angolan NGOs reported that over 7,000 Angolans, mainly women with children and young people, had fled to Namibia, and the number is still rising. Angolan NGOs have referred to those who are fleeing to Namibia as “climate refugees”, to attract attention to the fact that the drought and the lack of resources in southern Angola are pushing them to migrate to Namibia as a desperate measure to survive.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has observed that “frequency and intensity of droughts has increased in some regions” including in southern Africa since pre-industrial levels due to global warming and that “the frequency and intensity of droughts are projected to increase particularly in the Mediterranean region and southern Africa”.
The situation in Huíla and Cunene provinces was precarious even before the drought. Food insecurity has increased partly due to the diversion of communal grazing land to commercial farmers, which has been happening over the past two decades after the civil war. In 2019, Amnesty International exposed how the Angolan government had diverted communal grazing land in the Gambos to commercial cattle farmers without due process.
The situation in southern Angola is a stark reminder that climate change is already causing suffering and deathDeprose Muchena
According to the government, 67% of grazing land in the Gambos municipality has been occupied by commercial cattle farmers. This includes large parts of Vale de Chimbolela, known to pastoralists as “the cradle of cattle”, and Tunda dos Gambos, the customary grazing commons for the region’s pastoralists. In its 2019 report, titled The end of cattle’s paradise, Amnesty International showed how the occupation of the more fertile land by commercial cattle farmers had impeded access to quality grazing land and thus undermined the economic and social resilience of pastoralist communities, undermining their ability to produce food and survive droughts.
Impact of climate change on hunger
Amnesty International visited traditional pastoral communities in Gambos municipality, Huíla province in 2018 and 2019. Researchers saw the struggle to produce food first-hand, and documented, for instance, the adverse impact on women as they bear the burden of tilling the land, taking care of the sick as well as children. They also had to travel long distances (about 10km) to sell firewood so that they could buy food.
Three years on, the drought is showing no signs of abating.
The WFP has observed that as a direct consequence of the drought, malnutrition is peaking, and access to water, sanitation and hygiene is increasingly precarious with negative impacts on local communities’ health and nutrition.
In May 2021, the WFP estimated that 6 million people in Angola had insufficient food, with food insecurity most prevalent in the south of the country. It also noted that more than 15 million people are using crisis or emergency livelihood-based coping strategies, such as spending savings or reducing non-food expenses.
Amnesty International is calling on Angolan authorities and the international community to ramp up their relief efforts, including providing sustained and regular emergency food assistance and access to clean and safe water for domestic use and consumption in the rural areas of Cunene and Huíla provinces.
The international community, particularly wealthier states and those most responsible for the climate crisis, must take immediate action to fulfil their human rights obligations by urgently reducing emissions, and providing the necessary financial and technical assistance to the government and local civil society to support impacted communitiesDeprose Muchena
“The situation in southern Angola is a stark reminder that climate change is already causing suffering and death. The international community, particularly wealthier states and those most responsible for the climate crisis, must take immediate action to fulfil their human rights obligations by urgently reducing emissions, and providing the necessary financial and technical assistance to the government and local civil society to support impacted communities,” said Deprose Muchena.
“In addition, Angolan authorities must stop diverting land away from traditional communities in the rural areas of Cunene and Huíla provinces. They must ensure that those responsible for the granting of communal grazing land to commercial farmers are held accountable.”