Zambia is on the brink of a humanitarian crisis, grappling with its worst agricultural season in over four decades. The relentless grip of drought has choked crop yields, decimated livestock, and pushed millions towards the precipice of hunger.

The rains, long awaited, arrived late and sporadically, offering scant relief to parched earth. Scorching temperatures compounded the misery, disrupting crucial stages of growth for staple crops like maize. The devastating impact is writ large: nearly half of the planned maize harvest – a cornerstone of Zambia’s food security – has been lost.

The fallout extends far beyond ruined fields. The report from the government’s crop assessment paints a grim picture: over nine million people in 84 districts are bearing the brunt of the drought. These regions, historically responsible for over half of the country’s annual maize production, now face a crippling decline in food production.

Hunger pangs are already a stark reality for many. The drought has exacerbated pre-existing food insecurity, pushing an estimated 2.04 million people deeper into crisis. With failed harvests and dwindling reserves, food prices are skyrocketing, further squeezing the ability of vulnerable populations to access basic necessities.

Zambia’s children, already burdened by high rates of malnutrition, are especially at risk. The lack of affordable, nutritious food threatens to worsen stunting and wasting rates. This, coupled with the strain on household incomes, creates a vicious cycle of malnutrition and stunted development.

The crisis extends beyond hunger. Drying water sources are jeopardizing access to clean water for 3.5 million people. This, in turn, increases the risk of waterborne diseases, adding another layer of suffering to a nation still reeling from a recent cholera outbreak.

Women and children, particularly those in female-headed households, face a heightened risk of gender-based violence. As water sources dwindle, the burden of fetching water falls disproportionately on women and girls. This increased vulnerability, coupled with the stresses of the drought, creates a breeding ground for exploitation and abuse.

The long shadow of this drought is cast not only on the present but also on the future. With child marriages already prevalent in some drought-affected areas, the economic hardships and desperation fueled by the crisis threaten to push more girls out of school and into wedlock.

Zambia desperately needs international support to weather this storm. Urgent action is required to provide food assistance, improve access to clean water, and prevent the further spread of disease. Investments in drought-resistant crops and improved water management practices are also crucial to build resilience for the future.

Time is of the essence. Zambia’s drought is a stark reminder of the fragility of food security in a changing climate. Only through collective action can we avert a humanitarian catastrophe and help Zambia chart a path towards a more secure future.