Save the Children (UK) Emergency Unit Statement: food security crisis in Southern Africa

from Save the Children
Published on 20 Mar 2002
A major food shortage is affecting six countries in Southern Africa, most critically in Malawi, Zimbabwe and Zambia. Significant problems are also occurring in Swaziland and Lesotho, and amongst populations of internally displaced people in Angola. Acute food shortages are being reported in both rural and urban areas. FAO-GIEWS estimates that over two million people in all three countries urgently require food assistance. While 460,000 MT of food is required to sustain the region, just 130,000 of this has been sourced, leaving a 333,000 MT shortfall. Aggregate output of maize, the main staple, is estimated at 13.4 million tonnes, which is one quarter lower than the output in the year 2000-01 and well below the average for the past five years.
The destabilisation of food security across the region is due to a combination of macro-economic policy decisions, environmental conditions, political instability and, in the case of Angola, conflict. Prices of maize have significantly increased in recent months, ranging from 100% to 300% in Zimbabwe and Zambia, and to upwards of 500% in Malawi. There is an urgent need to expedite the delivery of commercially imported maize from South Africa to prevent a further deterioration of the food supply situation. So far, donors have been slow to respond and very little contingency planning has taken place. A full-scale international mobilisation is required to address this crisis.

Key Issues for Children

  • Children are at risk of dying from malnutrition
  • Food shortages have caused a deterioration in the health status of children
SC (UK) response

Save the Children UK (SC UK) is currently responding to the food security needs of vulnerable populations in Angola, Malawi and Zimbabwe. Here follows a breakdown of SC UK's response in two of the affected countries.


The government of Malawi only declared a state of emergency on the 27th February 2002 when the scale of the disaster could no longer be denied. Recent figures indicate that Malawi has imported just 62,000 of the required 150,000 MT that is presently on order from South Africa. There has been little to no contingency planning on the part of the government, leaving few surplus maize stocks.

In early October 2001, SC UK carried out detailed Household Economy Assessments (HEAs) in three Food Economy Areas (FEA's) in Malawi, covering large geographical areas in the south and central parts of the country. These investigations revealed a rapid deterioration of livelihoods for the communities in six districts. With DFID funding, SC UK has begun a large-scale food distribution to 230,000 people in Malawi's Mchinji district, where nutritional studies have shown alarming rates of malnutrition. SC UK is also supporting health centres and nutritional rehabilitation units to assist children under five in Mchinji and Salima districts.


SC UK undertook several HEAs during 2001 as part of an overall programme to build capacity amongst national partners in areas of vulnerability analysis. Results from these HEAs revealed a rapid deterioration of livelihoods, relating to food access issues and general maize shortages. SC UK requested funds from the British government to initiate an emergency livelihoods intervention for 51,000 people in Binga and Kariba Districts. The food interventions, which will continue until June 2002, have succeeded in containing malnutrition rates at an acceptable level, but the situation remains precarious.