Get educated, become a nurse, heal children and break the circle of poverty was all 14 year-old Lucas wanted. But since El Niño forced him to quit school life is full of uncertainty.
It began a year ago in rural Angola. It was a chilly morning when the young boy faced the terrible reality that he would no longer go to school. His family couldn’t pay the fees, they were all hungry, so there was little choice but for him to work.
“This lady comes to home looking for someone to work selling candy, biscuits and other stuff at the local market. I was at home, so I decided to go. If had a choice, I would go to school rather than selling stuff. All I want is to go back to school,” says Lucas.
He received the equivalent of USD $60 a month, but did not work for long. “I received salaries for the first two months and then the lady did not want to pay me. I did not receive anything for two months and I decided then to quit and stay home,” he said.
Lucus’ story is far from unique as Angola and other counties in Southern Africa experience their worst drought in decades. Widespread food shortages are not only leaving children hungry, but are also causing them to skip school, forcing them to work, separating them from their parents and worse.
In April, World Vision, PLAN International and UNICEF conducted a study across six countries in Southern Africa to determine specifically how children were suffering from the disaster. Child labour is believed to have increased since the start of the disaster, affecting more boys than girls. The study also reported a rising number of school dropouts, including 6,000 children dropping out of schools in Zimbabwe due to hunger or the need to help their families.
Families were migrating out of communities due to El Niño, mostly due to a lack of food. Parents commonly send their children away when there is not enough to eat and the problem affects children between 5-14 years old the most.
Southern Africa is the area worst hit by El Niño with an estimated 32 million people food insecure. To date, less than a fifth of the funds needed to respond to the El Niño disaster have been pledged by the international community. In Angola, 1.4 million people are affected by El Niño and in Southern Angola 78 percent of the population is affected. Half a million livestock have died over the last 18 months and cereal production is estimated to be 40 percent less than average.
Lucas’ father, Manuel, supports his family of ten with a small farm. The past two years have been particularly tough for them, first came the searing heat and then the rainy season was short. The drought devastated crops, leaving behind a trail of hunger. As consequence, the crops planted could not mature. In a good season, Manuel and his family could harvest around 300kg of different crops, but this year they only have around 100kg of maize, barely enough for a couple of months.
“I was a worker in a private sector and after a lost my job, I did not have a salary. All we have to live off is farming since I lost my job,” he says. “… my older son could not find the odds job he used to because people don’t have resources now.”
In the back yard lies is a garden bed where the family has grows vegetables through the winter. “That is our hope as for now, but water is another challenge,” Manuel says. The family’s story is all too common across Southern Africa. Food insecurity in Angola and neighboring countries is set to worsen over the coming months.
To protect children in the midst of this disaster requires a combined effort among Governments and agencies. The report recommends that Donors ensure that organisations seeking funding clearly define how they have taken into account the risks to children, especially in the distribution of food and the provision of water, sanitation and hygiene. Governments who have declared emergencies should ensure that the protection of children is included in long-term recovery programmes such as skills development. School feeding programmes, which can help keep children in school and protected, need to be expanded and targeted feeding programmes should include school going children.
Agencies responding to the disaster could standardize the way that they respond to school drop-outs. For example, when a child is absent for three or more days, identify ways to bring children back into education. Successful programming linking Child Protection and Education need to be scaled-up and the funding must be made available.
Vulnerable to such situations, Lucas says would do it again because “I have no choice.” “With the money I received, I bought some clothes and the remaining I gave my family to buy food for us.” Although Lucas wants so much more than this life, today, he can’t see beyond his immediate needs. “All I wish is to have everything back to normal so that I can go back to school because I can only become a nurse if I study. With my salary I would by cattle and goats to breed and thus help family out of poverty.”
Amidst catastrophe there is often opportunity and the opportunity that is present is to find the means to protect children during this disaster. Although resources are scarce, but they must be found, not only to protect this generation of children, but future generations from the ever increasing number of climate disasters.