Angola + 6 more

Save the Children UK Emergency Report Southern Africa - Food security crisis Sep 2002

Originally published
At a glance

An estimated 16 million people are facing serious food shortages and the threat of large numbers of hunger related deaths in the Southern Africa region. These shortages are occurring in both urban and rural areas. The countries most affected are Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique, Lesotho, Angola and Swaziland. There are concerns that the crisis could cause mass migration from Zimbabwe into neighbouring countries especially South Africa as people move in desperate search of food to sustain their families.

The food crisis has been caused by a variety of factors, among them acute poverty and vulnerability, erratic weather patterns, disruptions in commercial farming, high levels of HIV/AIDS, poor governance, and structural adjustment initiatives. In many areas, this is the second or third consecutive year of food shortages. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that the average output of maize, the region's staple food, is one quarter lower than the output for 2000/01 and well below the average for the past five years. In Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Zambia, this year's harvest came in April, but stocks are already beginning to run out and prices are on the rise again. In all of these countries rural livelihoods have been severely undermined and there has been a significant depletion of household assets.


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

  • High rates of HIV/AIDS have left many child-headed households, now facing further threats from severe food shortages

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

  • Children are vulnerable to high risk behaviour including prostitution, in order to procure food

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


The World Food Programme (WFP) has stated that it needs $507 million to help provide food for 10.2 million people at risk of starvation across the region between now and the next harvest in April 2003. With two to three years of food shortages, most people have been forced to consume all of their food reserves, leaving them with no safety net. Many people have been forced to adopt damaging coping strategies such as withdrawing children from school to help source food; selling their capital assets; thieving crops, prostitution, and eating wild, sometimes poisonous foods.

Lack of food has made people tired and weak, meaning their immune systems cannot fight off infection. In Malawi this is reflected by the severity of the recent cholera epidemic. The southern Africa region has some of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the world, with an increasing number of elderly and child-headed households. This has left households with a lack of able-bodied labour to help raise income. The current crisis has made caring for the sick more difficult.

Economic degradation exacerbated by crop failures has further reduced people's means to buy food. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) many people are dying at home as the existing health facilities, for the most part, have no medicines and no food to give them.


Acute food shortages across the Southern Africa region can be attributed to a complex interaction of a number of factors, among them environmental conditions, absence of effective international, national and regional policies with regard to food security, political instability and, in the case of Angola, conflict. The situation is exacerbated by the extremely high rates of HIV in the region.

The sharp fall in maize production throughout the region has forced prices to escalate significantly since the end of 2001. In Malawi prices had risen by over 400%. Added to people's lack of purchasing power was the lack of maize available on the market for people to buy. This can be attributed to a number of factors, including the depletion or liquidation of strategic grain reserves, foreign exchange shortages, and delays in timely importation of maize due to importation problems and transport bottlenecks.


According to the WFP, 7 million people are currently in need of food. This number will rise to 11 million between now and November, and will reach a peak of 12.8 million between December and March 2003.

WFP launched its Emergency Operation Programme (EMOP) for Southern Africa on July 1st requesting almost one million Mt. of commodities for its nine-month programme. However, as yet only 36% of the total amount needed has been received. National Governments, NGOs and the private sector are expected to cover the remaining deficit. So far the major donors have been the US, the UK, EU, and Canada.

The leading UK charities that make up the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) launched an appeal for Southern Africa on 25th July. At the time of writing, the appeal had raised =A313 million.

SC UK Response



According to the World Food Programme, over six million people -half Zimbabwe's total population - are in urgent need of food. WFP estimates that maize production in Zimbabwe has fallen by 71% from last year's harvest, which was already poor. In addition to those requiring food aid, millions who have the means to buy maize are unable to do so because of a shortage of grain in the markets, and black market prices are beyond the reach of most citizens. The WFP estimates that 705,000 Mt. of cereal aid is needed between April 2002 and March 2003. In this way, the food shortage is affecting vulnerable rural populations in chronically food deficit areas of the south-west and extreme north, the urban poor who are entirely dependent on the market for food, and the families of unemployed commercial farm workers.

This year's poor harvest followed a severe drought between January and April in most parts of the country, as well as disruption of the commercial farming sector due to "fast track" land acquisition activities. The government has been unable to buy and import sufficient grain mainly due to a lack of foreign exchange, a ban on private sector commercial grain imports, and strict price controls. Poverty has reached extreme levels in recent months in a country in which 75% of the population was classified as poor even before this year's crop failure. Both unemployment and the cost of living are rising steadily. An estimated 825,000 farm workers and their families have lost their jobs and homes and many households have reduced the number of meals they eat each day and are having to resort to wild foods. Some households are trying to increase income by getting their children to work.

Food security is further undermined by extremely high rates of HIV/AIDS which affects approximately 25% of the adult population in Zimbabwe. More than 640,000 children are estimated to have already been orphaned by the disease and the problem is being compounded by two consecutive poor harvests. One in four children is estimated to be chronically malnourished. Vulnerable children are thus faced with the threat of both HIV/AIDS and malnutrition. Life is centred around sourcing maize. In some areas people travel as far as 70km to purchase it. Internally, displacement is likely to increase as food shortages worsen. Mass migration is also likely to occur if the radical land reform practices continue to displace farm workers and their families.


Save the Children UK has been involved in a large-scale food aid programme in the Zambezi Valley region of western Zimbabwe, providing 50% of the population with food aid. In Zimbabwe SC UK has carried out several Household Economy Assessments (HEAs) and based on its findings SC UK has set up an emergency programme to distribute food aid to 65,000 people in Binga and Kariba Districts from October 2001. It is currently seeking funding to expand the programme, since food needs continue to escalate. SC UK has also supported its partner organisations in their food security activities. In partnership with the Farm Community Trust Fund of Zimbabwe, for example, SC UK is embarking on a feeding programme to assist the children of vulnerable farm workers in the Mashonaland East region of the country. SC UK is also supporting the Farm Orphan Support Trust with a supplementary feeding programme for some 5,000 orphans on commercial farms. It is envisaged that by March 2003 SC UK's feeding programme will reach 166,000 people in the Zambezi Valley.

SC UK takes a lead role in the inter-Agency Food Aid Co-ordination Group which is made up of NGOs, UN agencies and donors, and provides assistance to the UN's WFP and other agencies that are currently establishing food aid programmes in Zimbabwe. The organisation is positioning itself to respond to greater food shortages in September when the existing stocks from this year's harvest are expected to run out.

SC UK has also been very active in advocacy work regarding the vulnerability of farm workers in the current land reform programme.



The United Nations estimates that over three million people will need emergency aid before the next harvest in April 2003. Maize production is estimated to lower than last year's already poor harvest. Widespread early consumption of green maize to avert hunger will likely increase this figure. This amounts to a total cereal deficit of over 485,000 metric tonnes between April 2002 and March 2003.

Household supplies of maize have been exhausted and record high maize prices are beyond what the poorest can afford. More than 60% of Malawians live below the poverty line. The vast majority began this year in a precarious state after suffering from low production of maize and unaffordable prices for two consecutive years. This year, poor households consumed a high percentage of their immature (green) maize in order to survive during the months of February to April. Thus the food stocks for many households, which typically last until December, are expected to run out by October. Malawi is a landlocked country with poor infrastructure, which has a direct effect on commodity availability and prices.

Due to the food crisis, the increase in the number of people searching for casual labour has led to a decline in opportunities. Women and the elderly are directly affected as they are not as competitive in the casual labour market.

High rates of chronic stunting and malnutrition exist amongst children. The situation is compounded by high rates of HIV/AIDS at 19.5% of the total population. The health situation of people in general is poor and worsening with the current food shortages.


SC UK has concentrated its assessments in the south and central areas of Malawi. It has distributed food aid to over 45,000 families in Mchinji district and 35,000 families in Salima district, where nutritional studies have shown alarming rates of malnutrition. SC UK is supporting health centres and nutritional rehabilitation units to assist under fives in Mchinji and Salima through the supply of basic medical supplies and supplementary food.

SC UK is playing a key role in advocating for food policy that will promote access of food to the majority of Malawians through its participation in the national food security forums.



The government declared a state of emergency in Lesotho in April. At the height of the crisis, 650,000 people will require emergency food aid. The total cereal shortfall is estimated to be 338,000 Mt. So far, 50,000 Mt. has been pledged.

Two thirds of the population of Lesotho live below the poverty line and cannot afford basic food prices. The price of maize increased by two thirds between January 2001 and June 2002. This situation has been exacerbated by increasing unemployment among Lesotho's migrant workers in South Africa, resulting in decreased remittances for their families at home.


SC UK is currently supporting an evaluation of the food security situation in Lesotho and is facilitating an FAO-WFP crop assessment. Save the Children continues to monitor the food situation in the country, and to provide regular food security information to support food aid programmes. SC UK is recruiting a logistician to provide support to the WFP in country to set up as well as improve delivery and monitoring systems for food distributions.



The peace agreement in April between UNITA and the government of Jose dos Santos marked the end of almost 30 years of civil war. The war has left one third of the population displaced from their homes, has destroyed much of the country's infrastructure, and has left people vulnerable to food shortages. 190,000 people are estimated to be in need of food aid. The humanitarian situation will remain critical over the next six months. As of the time of writing, just 20% of the funding required for the UN appeal has been received from donors. According to WFP-FAO estimates, 1.9 million Angolans are currently in need of food aid. 500,000 of these people live in areas that have only recently become accessible due to the cease-fire agreement. A further 250,000 are living in Family Reception Areas as part of the demobilisation process. These people are made up of internally displaced, refugees returning to Angola and people in parts of the country that were previously inaccessible as well as families of UNITA military forces returning home. As well as a poor infrastructure - broken bridges, inaccessible areas and rough terrain, unexploded mines pose a serious challenge to delivery of food supplies. Oncoming rains will make food delivery harder.


SC UK is providing food and nutritional supplements to 60,000 people in two of the country's Family Reception Areas (FRAs) and is distributing food to 5,000 malnourished internally displaced people in Huambo Province. In addition to general food aid distributions for civilians SC UK plans to distribute supplementary food rations to at least 25,000 children. This is in addition to the 5,000 children who are already part of the SC UK nutrition programme in Huambo. SC UK is looking to second a staff member into the WFP Vulnerability Assessment and Monitoring Unit and has submitted a proposal in social protection to USAID's displaced children and orphans fund.

Save the Children works to reintegrate children affected by the war back into their communities, and supports the Ministry of Social Assistance and Reintegration in its national family tracing and reunification programme. Through this programme, SC UK plans to continue its support to family tracing, to improve child protection legislation, to establish community child protection networks, and to continue its poverty reduction work in peri-urban Luanda and the rural municipality of Huambo.


The Save the Children Alliance has launched an appeal for $26 million to respond to the crisis in Angola, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Save the Children Denmark, Norway, Swaziland, Sweden, UK and US have all responded to the crisis. Between them their humanitarian work in the region covers food distribution, health care, child protection, HIV/AIDS, family tracing, and education.

The Save the Children Alliance has also been involved in lobbying governments and the UN system to mobilise the current relief effort, and has conducted household studies to highlight the worsening crisis.