Millions face starvation in Southern Africa while Australia burns

Media Statement: As the world watches horrified by Australia’s devastating bushfires, another climate emergency, quieter but on a vast scale, runs the risk of going unnoticed. Millions are facing starvation in Southern Africa where temperatures are rising at twice the global average, yet the emergency is being underreported.


Almost 9.5 million people in Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe are facing severe food shortages after the worst drought in 35 years. This number is expected to increase to a staggering 45 million people throughout the region over the next few months.

ActionAid Australia Executive Director, Michelle Higelin said the situation is worsening rapidly and risks deteriorating into a famine in areas of Zimbabwe and Zambia. Parts of Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe are still recovering from the destruction wrought by Cyclone Idai in March 2019, compounding the effects of the persistent drought.

“Australia’s bushfire emergency has brought home the reality of climate change to us all.  But we are not alone in experiencing its catastrophic impacts. Climate change has also brought Southern Africa to the brink of famine in 2020.” Ms Higelin said.

“In low income countries, the climate crisis is disproportionately affecting women. It’s increasing their burden of unpaid work as women travel further in search of food and water.  It’s forcing girls into early marriage or to drop out of schools as livelihoods are decimated.  And it’s increasing the risk of violence as family tensions rise and women are forced to sell sex to survive. Women are on the frontlines of the global climate crisis,” she said.

ActionAid is on the ground working with women in Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe to distribute essential food and supplies. But further funding is urgently needed to protect people’s lives and livelihoods.

“Australia is a wealthy and a generous nation. We have seen this in the incredible outpouring of financial support for bushfire victims and recovery funds. If we could mobilise just a fraction of these resources, there is a chance to avert famine. Just as the world reached out in our time of need, let’s not turn our backs on millions of Africans facing starvation. We can step up our climate response both at home and overseas,” Ms Higelin said.

Ms Higelin said that Australia must own up to the impacts its lack of climate change policies are having on the rest of the world.

“A recent ActionAid report shows that Australian fossil fuel companies are expanding their mining operations in low income countries at a time when urgent climate action is needed. The potential carbon emissions of these projects are five times Australia’s annual emissions. Yet that number isn’t acknowledged as part of Australia’s contribution to climate change,” she said.

“Those emissions are contributing to the increased severity of bushfires in Australia, drought and cyclones in Southern Africa, the recent floods in the Philippines and rising temperatures globally.”

ActionAid calls on the Australian Government to ensure urgent climate action includes our global responsibility to support women and communities most impacted by climate change.


Notes to editors: 

  • The population of Southern Africa is expected to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes across the region through the March 2020 peak of the lean season will be well above average, and needs are expected to only rise further in late 2020, at the start of the next lean season. (FEWS NET)
  • In late 2020, at the start of the 2020/21 lean season, regional food assistance needs will increase even higher than needs during the first quarter of 2020, and poor households in the worst-affected areas are expected to face large food consumption gaps in the absence of humanitarian food assistance. (FEWS NET)
  • In Zimbabwe, 7 million people, half of the country’s population, are at the risk of facing severe hunger, placing Zimbabwe among the states facing one of the worst food crises in the world.(European Commission)
  • Recent reports from Malawi’s Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DODMA) estimates that over 6.5 million people are facing chronic hunger, while more than8 million people (half the country population) are in dire need of food aid.
  • In Zambia, 3 million peopleare currently estimated to be in IPC Phase 3 or worse. (FAO/UNICEF/WFP)
  • A combination of consecutive crises including drought, floods, insecurity and the impact of Cyclones Idai and Kenneth have caused 2.5 million people in Mozambique to be left in urgent need of assistance. (UN OCHA)