Malawi + 3 more

Millions at risk as food shortage grips southern Africa

News and Press Release
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Geneva/Gaborone 4 March 2013: Over 6 million people across the southern African countries of Angola, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Malawi are facing severe food shortages, and are at serious risk from disease and malnutrition, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is warning.

In a crisis that has been largely underreported in the global media, millions of people across the southern Africa region are paying a heavy price for recurring cycles of severe drought and flooding.

Malawi, Angola, Lesotho and Zimbabwe are particularly affected. Nearly 2 million people are at risk in Malawi, more than 1.8 million in Angola, 725,000 in Lesotho, and 1.6 million in rural areas of Zimbabwe. Rates of child malnutrition across the region are soaring, up 50 per cent in places compared to a year ago.

Emergency appeals for all four countries have been launched (see information overleaf), but support, particularly for Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Angola, remains dangerously low.

“This region cannot sustain the well being of its communities on rain-fed agriculture, especially with growing populations and less reliable rainfall patterns,“ said Alexander Matheou, IFRC regional representative in southern Africa. “This is a chronic crisis in which cycles of drought and flooding are destroying crops, livestock and safe drinking water supplies. People don’t have enough to eat or clean water to drink. Malaria, cholera and diarrhoea are common. There needs to be a large scale, well-funded, coordinated effort between governments, businesses, and humanitarian and development agencies to alleviate immediate suffering and support people to build economically viable livelihoods.”

Southern Africa is the most heavily HIV affected region in Africa. Of the total number of people living with HIV globally in 2009, 34 per cent resided in this region of the world. Lesotho, Malawi and Zimbabwe have an HIV prevalence greater than 10 percent and some of the highest HIV rates in the world. Lesotho, in fact, has the third highest adult HIV rate in the world at 23 per cent. Lack of food can seriously undermine efforts to counter the spread of HIV, as the antiretroviral treatment has a sickening affect on a hungry stomach. Some people inevitably put the medication aside. In addition, a growing number of women and girls are turning to prostitution – often coerced – to put food on the family table. Many who have accepted jobs in domestic service have found themselves forced into commercial sex and other forms of slavery.

“There are no simple solutions to crises such as these,” said Matheou. “Dependency on increasingly unreliable rains, preference for particular cereals and crops, lack of access to irrigation, lack of skills to find other work, irregular attendance of schools, fragile livelihoods that can be quickly wiped out, frequent sickness – all of these issues and others combine to make people in the region chronically poor and vulnerable. In times likes these, due to consecutive failed rains, aid is a necessity but it is not a solution. We need to think long term about how to promote sustainable, economic regeneration.”

In its work with the National Societies in these four countries, the IFRC is striving to address long term challenges through resilience building initiatives such as knowledge sharing on crop diversification and the development of contingency plans and community-based early warning systems.

IFRC southern Africa Emergency Appeals Status

Lesotho: Launched 15 October 2012.
CHF 1,119,000. 17% funded.

Malawi: Launched 17 October 2012
CHF 1,025, 310. 57% funded.

Zimbabwe: Launched 19 December 2012
CHF 1, 290 342. 33% funded.

Angola: Launched 13 November 2012
CHF 1,562, 562. 4%. Funded.

For further information, please contact

Alexander Matheou: IFRC regional representative in southern Africa.
Phone. +267 713 95340

Katherine Mueller: IFRC Africa Communications Manager.
Addis Ababa
Phone: +251930033413

Jessica Sallabank: IFRC Media Relations.
Phone: +41 799481148