By Benedict Mayaki, SJ
Millions of people in southern Angola are facing difficult times as drought aggravated by climate change continues to ravage the region. The abnormal dryness has hampered the 2020/21 rainy season, severely impacting crops and livestock and pushing many people to the brink of starvation.
More so, the situation has given rise to migratory movement from the most affected areas with families moving towards other provinces, and across the border to neighboring Namibia and Zambia in search of more favorable conditions.
Fr. Pio Wacussanga is a priest serving in the drought-hit southern province of Huíla who works closely with the people to provide support for those in need. He spoke to Vatican News’ Fr. Benedict Mayaki SJ, highlighting the situation on the ground and explaining how it affects Angolans who have been made vulnerable by the country’s worst drought in forty years.
Fr. Wacussanga heads Associação Construindo Communidades (ACC) based in Lubango, and Ame Naame Omunu (ANO) in Cunene. Through these organizations, he plays an active role in drawing attention to the situation of widespread famine in southern Angola.
The Angolan priest noted that drought in the semi-arid southern part of the country is not totally new, as it had been recorded even in the 19th century. However, the phenomenon has become recurring and even persistent.
In the past, he explained, “we would have droughts in-between, every eight or ten years, but now, we are likely to have one year of full rains and the following year, you have a drought.”
Forced migration, difficult living conditions
Angolans living in the Huíla, Namibe and Cunene provinces have been especially hard hit by the persistent drought. As a direct consequence, there is rising food insecurity leading to malnutriton as it is hard to produce food and care for livestock which are necessary for the survival of the people in the increasingly precarious conditions.
Furthermore, decreased access to water, sanitation and hygiene is having negative impacts on local communities’ health.
Fr. Wacussanga explains that large waves of people have been forced to become internally displaced in their search for food and water, or have fled the country to Namibia in search of humanitarian aid. He surmises that about 3 million people have become displaced, with between 16 – 20 thousand Angolans resettled in neighboring Namibia.
Faced with the dire situation, the Bishops of Angola and São Tomé released a statement on 11 October, urging Angolan authorities to declare a state of emergency to allow for assistance from the international community for the drought-hit region.
Fr. Wacussanga welcomes the Bishops’ idea, noting that international agencies are better equipped and are more experienced to deal with humanitarian crises.
He notes that the Angolan government is doing something to help provide food and water for the people in the area, but its efforts are not enough and there is a need for aid from international agencies to supplement the government's assistance.
In this regard, the Church is also doing its part to provide aid to people in need. The Angolan priest highlights the Church’s role in aiding the government to have a better food delivery policy and the important work it does in the field of advocacy.
Fr. Wacussanga affirms that “the drought is a clear indication of the impact of climate change” which is already causing suffering and even death. To take responsibility and reverse the trend, he insists that we have to protect the environment instead of continuing to destroy nature.
In this regard, he gives the example of a region of drought-hit oil-rich land where the government has extraction plans to maximize oil revenue. He notes that there are plans to begin extraction but none as to how to reduce the impact of the environmental damage that comes with oil exploration, “especially in areas with a lot of biodiversity and ethnic minorities who are depending on nature” to survive.
“The more we protect nature, the more nature will protect us,” Fr. Wacussanga says.
He calls for a stronger response from the state on this matter, adding that the Church’s Commission for Justice, Peace and Migration is already doing a lot to educate people to protect nature.