International Save the Children Alliance emergency statement: Southern Africa food crisis

from Save the Children
Published on 27 Nov 2002
Current Situation
The recently concluded vulnerability assessment estimates that 14.4 million people are facing serious food shortages in Southern Africa. More than half of these are children. An estimated one million metric tonnes (Mt.) of emergency food will be required to assist the most vulnerable people between now and March 2003. The worst affected countries are Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe, although Angolans are also suffering acute shortages following the country's 30-year war.

The prevailing food crisis has been attributed to several factors, among them acute poverty, high rates of HIV/AIDS, erratic weather patterns, disruptions in commercial farming, poor governance, and structural adjustment initiatives. In some countries this is the second or third consecutive year of food shortages, leaving households with few remaining coping mechanisms.

Key Issues for Children

  • Acute levels of malnutrition are threatening the lives of children across the region.

  • Children and their families are at risk of being displaced from their homes as they are forced to leave in search of food.

  • Children are being removed from school to work and to help their families find or pay for food.

  • Children are vulnerable to high-risk behaviour including prostitution, in order to procure food. High rates of HIV/AIDS have left many child-headed households increasingly vulnerable to food shortages.
International Save the Children Alliance response

Save the Children Denmark, Norway, Swaziland, Sweden, UK, and US have responded to the crisis as members of the International Save the Children Alliance. Below is a summary of Save the Children's response to the food shortage crisis in individual countries.


Four million Angolans (one third of the population) were forced to flee their homes during the war in search of security and food. A further one million who were inaccessible during the war have now been reached by aid agencies, and are in need of assistance. Many of these people are ex-UNITA fighters and their families who have emerged from the bush since the April cease-fire. They now live in quartering and family areas (QFAs) where they are dependent on external assistance to survive. In total, an estimated 1.9 million people are in need of assistance.

Save the Children Response

SC Denmark (SC-D) and SC-UK are delivering supplementary food to 25,000 children under 10 years of age, and also run a supplementary feeding programme for 5,000 malnourished children in Huambo and Caála towns. SC-UK runs a comprehensive humanitarian package for 60,000 people in two QFAs and in one camp for IDPs. This includes food, essential household items, health and nutrition support and working closely with the Ministry of Social Assistance and Re-integration to carry out family tracing for child soldiers and other children who have been separated from their families. The organisation works with communities and children in urban settings as well as displaced girls and women to facilitate their access to food and other basic services.

Save the Children US (SC US) is distributing 4,000 metric tonnes (Mt.) of food aid in Moxico Province, where conflict is prevalent and fertile land is scarce. SC US is also distributing 2,000 Mt. of food in Kwanza Sul, an area with a high concentration of IDPs. To combat severe health and nutrition problems, SC US has recently started an emergency measles vaccination and Vitamin A treatment campaign in Kwanza Sul. The organisation has also set up a health programme for mothers and children in Luanda, where 40% of the country's population resides.


Bad weather has significantly reduced the 2002 cereal harvest in Lesotho, leaving a third of the population in need of food aid. Many families in Lesotho live below the poverty line. Over the last nine months bread and maize prices have increased, leaving the poorest sections of society struggling to access food. High unemployment rates and a prevalence of HIV/AIDS have further exacerbated people's vulnerability. Out of a population of 1,073,000 children, 27,000 are estimated to be living with HIV/AIDS. National malnutrition rates have increased over the last decade, and 45% of under-fives are stunted.

Save the Children Response

SC-UK has facilitated national and international crop assessment and food security evaluation studies, which will ensure that Lesotho's needs are considered in any regional food aid response. SC-UK has recommended that agricultural inputs such as seeds be provided to enable disaster-affected farming families to restart agricultural production during the current planting season. The organisation has also lobbied for extension of the School Feeding Programme, which is an effective mechanism for getting food to the majority of children, and continues to work to ensure that all food security work explicitly addresses issues of child protection, HIV/AIDS, age and gender.


Food shortages in Malawi are affecting more than three million people, (29% of the total population). The country has experienced two consecutive failed harvests due to 2001 floods and a drought in 2002.

Save the Children Response

SC-UK has been distributing maize to thousands of households in Mchinji and Salima districts. A high protein food supplementary food was distributed to all under-five children in the targeted households in these two districts. SC-UK is also supporting 13 Nutritional Rehabilitation Centres (NRUs) in both districts. Regular nutritional surveys have been undertaken since December 2001 in the two districts to monitor the nutritional status of these children. The SC-UK Malawi Programme is playing a key role in advocating for a food policy that will promote access of food to the majority of Malawians through its participation in national food security forums such as the Joint Task Force on Food Security co-ordinated by the Ministry of Agriculture and its sub-committees.

SC US has been appointed the primary NGO to deliver United Nations World Food Programme food aid in the southern districts of Mangochi and Balaka, and the organisation plans to distribute approximately 11% of the country's total expected food aid needs. SC US has procured 520 Mt. of maize and 115 Mt. of corn soy to distribute to severely undernourished children and their families in the districts of Mangochi, Balaka and Blantyre. SC US has already distributed food supplies to approximately 7,000 families in the Mangochi district. Save US is also carrying out a nutrition assessment in conjunction with CARE that will cover four districts: Mangochi, Balaka, Lilongwe and Dowa.


The food situation remains serious in the southern and central regions of the country. The severe dry weather during the 2001-2002 crop season sharply reduced crop yields in these regions. Crop yields were also affected by erratic weather, HIV/AIDS which has caused a loss of agricultural labour, combined with the reduced ability of households to replace the lost production with other income and production, and high food prices. Families that have lost all or most of their crops have exhausted their stocks and are dependent on distress sales of livestock. According to the assessment results, up to 590,000 people, (3% of the population) will require food aid up to March 2003.

Save the Children Response

SC-UK is positioning itself to be able to respond to a child protection crisis, should hunger-induced population movements occur across the borders with Malawi, South Africa and Zimbabwe.


According to UNICEF 3,000 children per month in Zambia's 17 most-affected districts will require therapeutic feeding for severe malnutrition, and. another 7,000 per month will require supplementary feeding. Recent assessments have found high rates of clinical malnutrition in children. An estimated 2.9 million people (26% of the population) will need food aid through to March 2003.

Save the Children Response

SC-N is working in conjunction with Care International to provide supplementary food such as beans, to villages in the two districts in the southern provinces of Livingstone and Kasongule. The two organisations are also collaborating to distribute seeds to families in need in preparation for next year's harvest. SC-N has appointed two monitoring teams to assess the escalating needs in the area, particularly amongst under-fives. Finally, SC-N provides under-fives with high-energy protein supplements at local clinics.


A second season of erratic weather in 2002 has severely reduced production of maize, which is the staple crop of most of the country's subsistence farmers. Current estimates indicate that Zimbabwe has gone from being a substantial exporter of maize to needing to import some 75% of its total annual maize requirement - amounting to approximately 150,000 tonnes per month until May 2003. This comes at a time when the country is facing serious economic difficulties and international hostility arising from the controversy over the way in which the Government's land reform programme has been implemented. Rising unemployment and poverty rates, political violence, and an HIV/AIDS epidemic that is amongst the worst in Africa exacerbates vulnerability.

Children in Zimbabwe are experiencing heightened levels of malnutrition, a decline in access to health care, a reduction in school enrolment; vulnerability to exploitation of labour; and the increased incidence of death and illness of their parents and guardians.

Save the Children Response

Save the Children Norway (SC-N) is implementing a supplementary feeding programme in Chimanimani targeting 40,000 children in pre- and primary schools.

Over the last year SC-UK has embarked on a major food aid programme in the Zambezi Valley region of western Zimbabwe. Some 50% of the population have received a monthly ration of maize meal, cooking oil and beans in Binga district, numbering around 60,000 people. This will increase to 125,000 people from December onwards. Further north in Nyaminyami district the organisation has run a social welfare feeding programme targeted at over 6,000 people who are acknowledged as the most vulnerable.

SC-UK has financially and technically supported a supplementary feeding programme for some 5.000 farm orphans, which has been running since January 2002. This will expand to reach 75,000 people from December onwards. SC-UK's food security team has produced a number of nutrition surveys and vulnerability assessments that look at the situation of communities on commercial farms, peri-urban settlements, informal mines, and remote rural areas of the country. Much of this information has been instrumental in raising the profile of these communities in terms of donor assistance, as well as providing a more general measure of the increasingly desperate situation facing vulnerable populations in different parts of Zimbabwe.