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Humanitarian Trends in Southern Africa: Challenges and Opportunities

Originally published


(Pretoria, 08 November 2013): A groundbreaking study into the threats likely to confront southern African communities over the next decade has been released. Titled Humanitarian Trends in Southern Africa: Challenges and Opportunities, the study identifies regional and global factors that may impact the lives and livelihoods of southern Africans and, as importantly, the available capacities to address these challenges.

The study found that, contrary to perceptions that southern Africa has a homogeneous and ‘low-risk’ profile, the region is exposed to a range of environmental and social pressures, with 47 defined international humanitarian emergencies between 2000 and 2012. However, it is often the smaller-scale emergencies that have the most impact on resilience: multiple, frequently repeating and compounding shocks prevent communities from fully recovering, and as each of these shocks is individually not of a scale that attracts global attention, responses are often under-resourced.

Looking forward, southern Africa’s risk profile is marked by an increasing diversity of shocks, as the urban share of the region’s population grows, and as southern African economies become more connected with others. Climate risks have also become more varied, with apparent increases in cyclone- and flood-related events, compared to previous periods. Furthermore, household vulnerability and constrained risk governance have emerged as persistent features of the region’s risk profile. These are increasingly intertwined with recurrent climate, conflict, epidemic and economic shocks. In recent years, these factors have converged and compounded, escalating to emergency scale in a widening range of contexts, including the region’s largest cities.

The study was commissioned by the Southern African Regional Interagency Standing Committee (RIASCO), which will now take forward the priorities proposed by the study through joint planning initiatives.

As noted by FAO Senior Coordinator for southern Africa, Mario Samaja: “this study provides humanitarian and development partners with a shared understanding of the new and diversified challenges facing the region, and provides a solid base to identify strategies to address these challenges. It is an important piece of research that will inform our activities moving forward, both in preparing for and responding to crises, and in building longer term resilience to shocks.”

The research was carried out during 2012 by 33 researchers through four research hubs across the southern Africa. These involved the University of Antananarivo (Madagascar), North-West University (South Africa), Stellenbosch University (South Africa), the Technical University of Mozambique, along with independent researchers in Lesotho, Malawi and South Africa.

The study was launched at the Conference Centre of the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO). It can be found on the OCHA ROSA website:

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