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Southern Africa: Emergency food security assessments point to rising needs

The SADC FANR Regional and National Vulnerability Assessment Committees (VACs), in collaboration with key partners, have undertaken Emergency Food Security Assessments in the six SADC countries most affected by food shortages. The assessments looked at macro conditions and trends at the national level, and included extensive field work at district, community and households levels. Findings indicate that the number of people requiring food assistance has increased since the joint assessments with FAO/WFP in April. At present, the number of people requiring assistance in the six countries is estimated at 10 million. Click here to view map.

This figure will increase during the period December to March 2003 from the previous estimate of 12.8 million to 14.4 million (↑ 12.5%), while cereal requirements for that period increased from an estimated 880,000 MT to 1,000,000 MT (↑13.6%). The assessments provide critical information to guide targeting of both humanitarian and recovery efforts. Complete national and regional reports are available at www.sadc-fanr.org.zw.

Increasing Regional Food Needs Over Time

Populations in Need of Emergency Food Aid and Cereal Requirements, September, 1, 2002 through March 31, 2003

More People Could Suffer from Poor Availability

It should be noted that estimates of those requiring food assistance do NOT include those households that are food insecure due to supply side factors. That is, those households that have purchasing power, but are unable to access cereals simply because they are not available on the market. Data from the assessments indicate that a high proportion of households are experiencing difficulty in accessing cereals due to supply side issues. Market interventions may be needed.

Coping Strategies Stretched

Throughout the region most poor and food insecure people are already engaged in various forms of distress coping strategies. Some 80% of households report that they have already changed consumption patterns. This is typically followed by reduction in expenditures, then sale of capital assets, and then migration strategies. These activities may meet immediate needs until options become exhausted, but can have detrimental effects on longterm livelihoods.

Acute Malnutrition Rates Likely to Increase

The VAC assessments included nutritional assessments in four of the six countries, and revealed that acute malnutrition among children (measured by weight-for-height) was currently below the 10- 15% levels expected in times of severe food shortages. However high levels of chronic malnutrition and high prices, raise concern over longer term poverty issues in most of the countries.

Malnutrition in Children Under-Five

Slow Progress in Filling Cereal Gap

Comparing 2001/02 cereal production plus opening stocks (supply) with domestic cereal requirements (demand, excluding desired closing stocks), provides an indication of the domestic cereal gap, which must be filled through a combination of commercial imports and food aid. Import progress in most countries has been slow, typically filling between 22% and 27% of the gap. Mozambique has already imported nearly 78% if its requirements, while Zambia has so far imported less than 9% of its cereal gap.

2002/03 Domestic Cereal Gap (MT) and Import Progress, September 2002

Food Security Status - The Bottom Line, September 2002

Withdrawal of foreign troops from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the gradual return of refugees could signal an improved environment for humanitarian assistance efforts populations.

Large numbers of IDPs in Angola are resettling as the peace process continues. Humanitarian efforts require additional resources to facilitate resettlement activities in advance of the planting season.

In Zambia, poor households in areas affected by drought face both physical food shortages and constrained access to food due to chronic poverty. There is growing concern over the threat of urban food insecurity.

Poor households in Botswana affected by dry conditions and production shortfalls, are receiving assistance from government, which has not requested international humanitarian assistance.

Zimbabwe is threatened with a major humanitarian crisis and possible famine due to serious food shortages caused by erratic rainfall, a declining economy, and recent policy changes.

In Namibia, government and partners have completed food security assessments in northern areas affected by dry conditions, which may require food assistance.

Food security conditions in Tanzania remain favorable, with stable prices in most markets. Surplus production in the southern highlands is being exported to neighboring countries, under a liberalized trade environment.

Malawi is suffering from structural food insecurity, exacerbated by two consecutive poor harvest. High levels of poverty leave many households with limited access to staple foods.

In Mozambique, production was good in key cereal producing regions of northern , drought condition in some southern and central areas have lead to pockets of food shortages, with access constrained by poor infrastructure linkages and high market prices.

Although Swaziland is a lower-middle income country, consecutive poor harvests the past two years exceed the government and private sector capacities to fill the cereal gap.

While Lesotho is structurally dependent on food imports, declining productivity and low purchasing power due to reduced labor opportunities are exacerbating food security.

In South Africa, food supplies are stable as the commercial trade continues to thrive and provide other parts of the region with food. Transport links are crowded.

UN Says: "Dramatic And Complex Crisis Unfolding In Southern Africa"

The UN Secretary-General named WFP head James Morris as his Special Envoy for Humanitarian Needs in Southern Africa. The Special Envoy, along with representatives from SADC and UN agencies toured the six most affected countries in the region during September to meet with key stakeholders and review the humanitarian situation and ongoing relief efforts and needs.

The mission concluded that there is a "dramatic and complex crisis unfolding in southern Africa". The mission noted that perhaps worst of all, southern Africa is being devastated by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which the they considered to be the fundamental, underlying cause of vulnerability in the region, representing the single largest threat to its people and societies.

The mission recommended urgent provision of seeds, fertilizers, and tools before the planting season begins. Health and nutritional systems need to be reinforced to cope with the growing demand, and food needs to continue to reach the most vulnerable people. Humanitarian programming should be linked with longer-term development objectives to address the root causes of poverty.

Concern Over Access To Regional Seed Supplies

At the regional level, key inputs, particularly seed, are available according to the SADC FANR Seed Security Network. South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe have surplus supplies of maize seed, while Mozambique reportedly has adequate supplies to meet national requirements. Lesotho and Swaziland typically import their seed from South Africa, and are expected to largely meet their requirements this year. In Malawi, there could be problems with national level availability, as they will need to import some 8,000MT of hybrid maize and 300MT of open pollinated varieties to meet the requirements of planned input supply programmes that will target almost three million farmers.

While overall seed availability is unlikely to be a problem this season, accessing seed in a timely manner will be a problem, especially by poor farmers given their low levels of income, depleted food stocks and the high cost of staple foods. With only weeks remaining before the start of the planting season, most poor farmers are unsure where or how they will obtain their agricultural inputs. Well targeted and timely humanitarian assistance providing input supply will be essential to supplement government efforts to restore productive capacity within the region.

Climate Forecast Indicates Normal Rains Most Likely

A weak to moderate El Niño event is expected to persist throughout most of the coming 2002/03 crop production season. While experts agree that a weak El Niño would probably have minimal effect on rainfall levels in the region, a moderate to strong El Niño would be more likely to lead to dry conditions that could adversely affect crop production. Click here to view map.

National, regional and international climate experts met in early-September to develop a consensus seasonal forecast. Because the forecast assumes a weak El Niño event, it is most likely that the region will receive near normal rainfall during the first half of the season. However, in some parts of those countries currently facing exceptional food shortages, there is also a slightly enhanced probability of below normal rains.

For the second part of the season, January to March 2003, scientists forecast that all of the affected countries are likely to receive normal or below normal rainfall, with the exception of northern parts of Zambia and Malawi, which have an enhanced probability of receiving normal to above normal rainfall.

The forecast for the coming cyclone season, which could affect rainfall during the second half of the season, will be made in mid- November. In December, when the strength of the El Niño is known, climate experts will meet again to update the forecast for the second half of the season.

The forecast is based on probabilities derived from 30 years of historical rainfall data, and considers the state of the global oceanicatmospheric system and its implications for the region. Climate experts caution that the forecast is relevant only for seasonal time scales and for relatively large areas, and that local and month-to-month variations should be expected. Readers are advised to contact national meteorological agencies for local forecasts and interpretation.