THE BLOG
29/02/2016 06:31 GMT | Updated 26/02/2017 05:12 GMT

Imagine Life Without Rain

The desperation and suffering people endure because of drought is hard to comprehend when Britain has just experienced the wettest December of any calendar month on record according to the UK Met office.

Puddles and soggy clothes have been normal for weeks and umbrellas a permanent accessory. But aside from inconvenience, rainfall is not a major killer and everyone, apart from the very poorest, can eat properly every day. Children can still go to school and livestock doesn't starve and die.

But for the families I have met since joining Send a Cow, rain is literally the difference between life and death. Even the slightest variation in when it happens, can determine the lives of a family and their entire community for months.

According to the United Nations World Food Programme, the drought is currently affecting 14 million people and will ultimately affect 49 million people - 40 million living in rural areas.

Numbers lose their meaning when they are written down like this but 49 million represents pretty well every single adult in the UK. Just imagine what life would be like if every single person you knew and saw over 18 was hungry and malnourished. Aside from the physical effects and illnesses, just think what life would be like - no energy to do anything, no spare money to innovate or instigate and no joyous celebrations with friends and family.

Instead people would be head down in search of any scrap they could consume, struggling to find the money to pay for inflated food prices in the markets and shops.

Now imagine the main dietary element of those 49 million people was bread and most people's sole occupation was growing wheat to feed their families and sell so they could buy other foods and send their children to school. Just how devastating would it be when that entire wheat crop failed?

Ironically, bread consumption has been falling In the UK in recent years. It's still a staple food according to the Flour Advisory Bureau, but average consumption is now two or three slices a day. That makes it really hard to imagine which single food in the UK could impact us in such a way that people would starve.

It's easier to understand in the southern regions of Africa where maize is a vital crop and local economies, government and households depend on it. Any delay in planting or failure of crops has an immediate and devastating effect. That's exactly what's happening as a result of this drought.

The region has had its lowest recorded rainfall between October and December since 1981 and the forecast until March is that any rain will be well below average as the impact of the El Niño weather system continues.

South Africa is the region's largest maize producer and along with Ethiopia, one of the countries most frequently referred to when talking about this drought.

But Send a Cow has a special interest in a tiny country nestled deep inside South Africa. It's the mountainous Kingdom of Lesotho which has received little media coverage in recent weeks.

This former British protectorate has a population of 2.2 million and an inconceivable life expectancy statistic of just 50 years for men and 48 years for women. Those death rates are because this country has been rocked by HIV/AIDS. It has the second highest prevalence rates for HIV in the world and an estimated 29% of adults are on antiretroviral drugs - drugs which are most effective when taken with food.

Lesotho, with its poor soil quality and limited agricultural space, has always been heavily dependent on its big neighbour for work. Men typically find employment in South Africa's diamond mines leaving the women in charge of all the household tasks, as well as taking care of the children.

That's why Send a Cow has made it a priority country for fundraising. We currently have four projects in progress working with 2,939 households. Like all our projects, they are helping families help themselves by working with them over many years to teach farming techniques and encourage a sustainable future through a wider range of crops than just maize - especially vegetables.

But even with all our support, Send a Cow families are among those affected by this drought. We are now urgently introducing additional fast growing vegetable seeds into their farming schedules and even more hands on, face-to-face working from our teams in country.

We'd like to do a lot more to beat this crisis but we also want to stop future generations being devastated by drought. Around 70% of Africa's people depend on smallholder agriculture for a living and they produce the bulk of the continent's food. We have to find a way to help them survive major crisis - come rain or shine.