Nothing natural about Southern Africa food crisis, charges ActionAid
In Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Swaziland, Mozambique and Lesotho, the number of people requiring humanitarian assistance is estimated at 12 million. Two of the worst affected countries are Malawi and Zimbabwe with about 5 million and 2.9 million people respectively classified as 'food insecure'.
ActionAid's Emergencies and Human Security Advisor for Southern Africa, Zvidzai Maburutse said: "The problem of food insecurity in Southern Africa is both transitory and chronic. It is attributable to extreme poverty, the massive impact of HIV/Aids, infertile soils and the high cost of seeds and fertilisers.
Yet despite increasing analysis and recognition of the underlying factors for hunger, a general perception persists that the current food crisis is caused by 'a natural disaster' - drought.
"The prevailing situation is the result of a range of entangling crises. Risk has been driven upwards by silent but intensifying conditions of political, socio-economic and environmental vulnerability underpinned by the HIV/Aids epidemic. Therefore, a modest external threat, such as an unexceptional drought, results in widespread suffering," said Zvidzai Maburutse.
The current crisis dates back to January 2005 when lack of rain seriously affected the region's agricultural production and became the final trigger that provoked the emergency. In the worst affected areas people have been living on a diet of bamboo seeds since June. Bamboo seeds offer very little in the way of nutrition but for some, there is nothing else available. The worst months are expected to be between January and March 2006, as provisions are running out and there is no prospect of a good harvest next year due to a lack of seeds and fertilisers.
ActionAid's Head of Emergencies, Roger Yates, wants governments to acknowledge that the key to overcoming the food crisis lies in appropriate and effective policies.
"Environmental shocks like drought bring collapse only to systems that are already weak owing to policies which fail to protect the poor, government level corruption, mismanagement and a total lack of accountability. There is nothing natural about this latest disaster to hit Southern Africa. Regional governments, the international community and donor agencies must provide immediate and appropriate humanitarian assistance as well as implementing long-term policies to tackle poverty and prevent future crises in the region."
One of the worst hit countries in the region is Malawi. It is no coincidence that Malawi is also one of the poorest countries in the world. 42% of the population exist on less than $1 a day, the average life expectancy is just under 40 and 14% of the population are living with HIV. The situation in Malawi is worsening daily, the price of maize is expected to increase considerably, and ActionAid estimates that nearly half of Malawi's population (5.0 million people) will be living with hunger by the end of March 2006.
Currently ActionAid is contributing to the Malawian Government's response to the hunger crisis through provision of winter cropping using the treadle pump, peddle pump and drip kit irrigation technologies, a seed multiplication programme, supplementary feeding to the most vulnerable groups, including people living with HIV/Aids, a school feeding programme and through ActionAid's ongoing advocacy for emergency preparedness and response.
For further information on ActionAid's response to the crisis, interviews, case studies and pictures - contact firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 020 7561 7633
Situation in Zimbabwe
Number of food insecure people is estimated at 2,9 million, this excludes at least 700,000 affected by the recent operation Restore Order/ Murambatsvina
The government of Zimbabwe has refused to make an appeal calling for humanitarian agencies to voluntarily assist the vulnerable people.
ActionAid Zimbabwe is currently targeting over 2,500 people with direct food distribution, 16,200 households with inputs (maize, sorghum, millet, cowpeas, cuttings of sweet potato stems and pumpkin seeds) and 5000 households with micro-irrigation equipment (Drip kits) in both rural and urban areas.
Situation in Zambia
Nearly two million people are estimated to be food insecure.
Government of Zambia has appealed to the World Food Program (WFP) for assistance to feed the vulnerable people. Seeds and fertilizers are available in country but only 20% of the households have access to the products because of the exorbitant prices.
Situation in Mozambique
Number of food insecure people is estimated at 550,000 The government of Mozambique has appealed for assistance from the World Food Programme to feed the food insecure people.
Situation in Lesotho and Swaziland
ActionAid is currently assessing the situation in Lesotho and Swaziland and coordinating ActionAid's response.
ActionAid's stance on food aid
At times of crisis, food aid is necessary to save lives. However food aid needs to be complemented by longer-term interventions that reduce people's vulnerabilities otherwise these crises will continue to occur. Previous responses to food crises in the region have been in the form of large-scale imported food aid, addressing the immediate effects of the crisis. Food aid programmes are costly and often involve 'dumping' large quantities of inappropriate grains thus depressing regional markets, creating dependencies and damaging food security systems.