The regions of Cunene, Huíla and Namibe in southern Angola are experiencing today an unprecedented cycle of severe drought, with far below-average and erratic rainfall. This has had a dramatic toll on the majority of the local population, which has traditionally subsisted on agriculture and herding. Recently, international media have identified 2.3 million local inhabitants suffering from malnutrition or at risk of starvation. In response, several global agencies, from UNICEF to WHO and FAO, have since invested in several relief programs, addressing nutrition, health and access to water. However, several reports have stressed that the humanitarian response, both at state, local and international level, has been insufficient and unsuccessful.
Despite the Angolan government’s adherence to UN conventions on climate change and on combat against desertification its investment in environmental education programs, remained mostly inactive vis-à-vis the situation in Southern Angola. After the elections of 2017, however, the new president João Lourenço promised a more proactive environmental policy, geared towards ecological diversity, sustainable development and, for instance, investment in ecotourism.
Motivation of urgency of data collection, and possible consequences of lack of urgent grant. With the prolongation of the cycle of drought, the situation in Southern Angola is now reaching a point of rupture, on the verge of a humanitarian disaster. In May 2019, Lourenço visited the regions of Cunene and Namibe, and announced an Emergency Program of Combat against Drought. Subsequently, a financial package of 200 million US dollars was made available. But in the summer of 2019, amidst yet another ongoing exceedingly dry season, several local voices are now urging the president to declare a state of emergency in the region. Despite the intentions of relief, local governors are now talking about a situation of “absolute chaos” and “public calamity”. In the words of the governor of the Cunene region, Virgílio Tyova, if nothing changes soon, Southern Angola will face “a true humanitarian catastrophe”, at a level “never seen before” (Angola Press 14.6.2019).
Furthermore, unlike other environmental disasters in Africa (from the 2011 drought in East Africa to the recent flooding in Mozambique) and elsewhere, the situation in Southern Angola has received insufficient media attention, which has not encouraged international civic mobilization to support the local communities, who are relying on the few resources mobilized by local civic associations and agencies such as the Red Cross. Considering the gravity of the situation, exodus and human displacement from Southern Angola are due to happen very soon. Valuable information will be lost if we are not able to assess on site what is happening, namely the level of catastrophe, what has succeeded and failed in terms of relief, how the local populations are reacting to it, and what knowledge and practices are being shared and lost in what concerns surviving drought in this part of the world – why traditional modes of livelihood are no longer ensuring sustainability and security for the local populations..
The collected knowledge will be crucial because it will offer a qualitative/quantitative survey of the situation of crisis in the region in terms of environmental, food, resource, and labor vulnerability/insecurity. At the same time allow for a critical, empirically-based assessment of environmental governance and civic response, both in Angola and on a global scale. Subsequently, it will be crucial for enabling a comparative research framework concerning environmental disasters and their governmental, non- governmental and civic management across Africa.
Research Questions and Methods
This project proposes to perform an on-site assessment of the situation of environmental disaster, with a specific focus on the following questions: what are the immediate and long-term perceptions and needs of the local population, in a moment in which the environmental situation has become extreme? What are the perceptions as to the causes and consequences of the environmental disaster? What have been the effects of the relief strategies and the Angolan government’s Emergency Program? What traditional knowledge is being shared and lost at a local level? The collected information will be crucial at two levels: it will offer an evaluation of the current situation, and establish a longitudinal account that maps the situation of extreme disaster and understanding local perspectives vis-à-vis the drought; and it will provide data in order to place the case of Southern Angola within a wider international debate concerning climate change, environmental governance and local responses to environmental disaster.
More specifically, the project will:
- Compile and analyze data, documentation and bibliography concerning (a) the history and current situation of drought in southern Angola; and (b) local responses, national and international, and strategies facing environmental disaster in Africa.
- Conduct on-site research, collecting testimonies from local inhabitants and stakeholders concerning how they have responded to the persisting drought, what are their perceptions regarding local and international responses to the climate disaster, and also what kind of solutions they envisage in response.
- Collaborate with local civic associations towards the production of reports, manuals, and guidelines for good practices.
- Establish a comparative heuristic framework and platform towards a subsequent comparative research agenda concerning environmental disasters and civic responses in Africa.