Southern Africa: Famine & AIDS Update, 01/29/03

Southern Africa: Famine & AIDS Update, 01/29/03

AFRICA ACTION Africa Policy E-Journal January 29, 2003 (030129)

Southern Africa: Famine & AIDS Update (Reposted from sources cited below)

This posting contains reports and analysis on the continuing food crisis in Southern Africa, from the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN). Another posting today includes two distinct but related items: an Africa Action press release responding to President Bush's announcement of new funding for AIDS beginning next year, and a report from Rep. Frank Wolf (Republican, Virginia) reporting on his recent trip to the Horn of Africa and the escalating famine in that region.

One of the key themes common to these postings is that AIDS and poverty are sharply accentuating the impact of weather conditions by reducing the capacity of families and societies to respond. Another is that existing international responses, including that from the United States, fall far short when measured either against immediate steps needed to save lives or against long-term strategies to address structural problems.

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UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

[These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

New Thinking Needed on Food Security

January 20, 2003

Southern Africa's food crisis is not a short-term transitory phenomenon that will be over when this year's harvest is gathered. It points, instead, to a failure of development policies and the impact of HIV/AIDS, for which there are no easy solutions, humanitarian officials acknowledge.

Over 14 million people in six countries are at risk through a combination of poverty, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, government policy mistakes, and the collapse of social services and traditional safety nets. UN agencies and NGOs have called for a rethink of development strategies and partnerships that can help lift the region's subsistence farmers out of chronic food insecurity.

Although the immediate humanitarian response "has gone someway to stabilise the situation ... the outlook is clearly not good and there are not many reasons for hope," Chris Kaye, the Regional Disaster Response Advisor of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.

By the end of December the food component (US $507 million) of the UN's US $611 million consolidated appeal for the region was only 62 percent funded. Donors were even less generous towards non-food projects, providing only 20 percent of the money needed. An anticipated El Nino year in 2003 threatens another drought, but that is likely to be overshadowed by the expected war in Iraq, which will divert attention from the Southern Africa crisis, Kaye said.


The humanitarian response of providing food aid "will not solve the problem because the underlying causes of the HIV/AIDS pandemic will not make this famine a normal famine. There is no end to it because people are too weak to plant, too weak to harvest so this will go on. The problems don't go away with better weather. That means the response of governments and the international community make must recognise that," Urban Jonsson, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa told IRIN in November.

"There are no answers at the moment," Michael Drinkwater, the regional coordinator of the development NGO CARE International conceded. "We are looking at a situation where countries will need ongoing assistance for many years to come in agriculture, health, at the macro-economic level ... Throwing money at it is not going to help, we need to work much more strategically."

The failure of rains over two consecutive seasons should not have precipitated a crisis as deep as the region has now experienced. The current emergency, therefore, points to a slow erosion of people's coping mechanisms exposing a more deep-seated and complex problem of vulnerability. According to UNICEF, for example, 59 percent of Zambian children under five were already malnourished in 2000. In Malawi it was 49 percent, 44 percent in Lesotho and 27 percent in Zimbabwe.

Even under normal conditions, subsistence farmers in Malawi can only grow 90 percent of their food needs. From December until the next harvest in March, many eke out an existence by providing casual labour known as "ganyu" within the community, using money earned to buy food on the market. But if the planting season has been poor, labour opportunities dry up and the price of food on the market rises.

"That daily wage rate has not changed in five years, it's about 20 kwacha [US 27 cents] per day. But the inflation rate in Malawi has been outstanding. So you have this inflation rate, to which all the other prices get adjusted accordingly - fuel transport, maize prices, they're all directly linked. But the casual labour rate hasn't budged - it's a precarious situation," Nicholas Haan, Regional Programme Advisor of the World Food Programme's (WFP) Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping unit told IRIN in June.


Most of Southern Africa's agriculture is rain fed. The staple crop is maize, a non-indigenous plant which is not drought-resistant, but as a commercial crop has edged out more traditional and hardier cereals from national diets. The lack of irrigation and crop diversification means that small-scale farmers are particularly vulnerable to climatic changes in a region where drought is endemic.

"A lot of lip service has been paid to agriculture in the region," Reggie Mugwara, the director of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Food and Natural Resources Unit explained. "I think we need to redirect our investments back into agriculture, particularly smallholder agriculture, which is the engine of growth for most of the countries that have been affected [by the drought]."

A failure of governance - poor accountability and a lack of democratisation - has been cited as one of the key causes for the region's emergency. The finger has been repeatedly pointed at Zimbabwe's land reform programme, which has undermined a previously robust agricultural economy, and financial mismanagement in Malawi, which led to a decision to sell off the country's grain reserve as shortages were already becoming apparent.

"Famine is always a product of decision-making failures. Southern Africa is where it is now because of the decisions and actions of the powerful. Thus, the key solution to preventing hunger lies in increasing people's participation in, and the effectiveness of, governance," Donald Mavunduse, emergencies programme adviser with the UK-based NGO Acton Aid wrote in in an Overseas Development Institute (ODI) report.

A lack of management capacity by governments has also been mentioned as a contributory factor. "Disasters happen, whether it is floods or whatever. What is important is what capacity, what policies have been put in place, what is it that needs to be done institutionally to strengthen the institutions in order to respond [effectively]?" Mugwara asked. This was a goal that greater regional policy integration through SADC could help to achieve, he noted.

Famine early warning systems in Southern Africa have in the past typically looked at "macro data" of rainfall and crop yields rather than the "ground-truthing" to determine people's ability to afford food - the kind of analysis that raised the first alarm over conditions in Malawi in 2001. "At present many governments in Southern Africa do not have the capacity for a well-functioning statistics system. [Economic] liberalisation has led to contracts for data collection and analysis being put up on a two-three years basis, so there is little institutional learning. Such turnover is too high to help Africa," participants at an ODI meeting in July noted.


But at the policy level, there is also little room for new thinking by African governments. They are constrained by the "Washington consensus" on market reforms championed by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) as the ideologically correct development path. It frowns on government intervention, and looks at short-term financial considerations rather than medium-term food security, critics argue. The debt burden also robs governments of development resources.

The role of the state has been downsized - it is no longer that of a food security guarantor, however inefficiently it operated in the past. Subsidised inputs such as fertiliser were stopped, social services starved of funds, and the commodity boards that fixed producer prices and collected farmers' produce abolished. They were supposed to have been replaced by the private sector, but in most cases local entrepreneurs could not rise to the challenge or lacked the profit incentive to reach the more remote regions.

The poor, for the most part, are now on their own. "The reform programmes, yes are necessary, [but] they are painful ... I think we need some contingency plans in order to minimise the worst effects," said Mugwara. "You can't go back to the old ways, but we cannot also ignore the present realities ... that the vulnerable are much more vulnerable than they were."

Smallholder agriculture, the predominant source of livelihoods in Africa, had proved to be at least as efficient as large farms when farmers received similar support services in inputs like seeds, fertiliser and credit, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) said in a report last year. Raising their output would stimulate the rest of the economy. Each 1 percent increase in agricultural productivity had been shown to reduce poverty by 0.6 percent, the institute said.

But public investment in African agriculture has been falling for many years. World Bank lending for agriculture slumped from about 31 percent of its total lending in 1979-81 to less than 10 percent in 1999-2000. The funding levels required to boost agriculture "depart sharply from recent trends", IFPRI acknowledged.

In a report on the food crisis released in June, Oxfam warned that until the right to food was put at the top of the agenda of international financial institutions and national governments, food security would remain precarious. It said Africa needed policies that were carefully thought-out and implemented, and not driven by dogma, political opportunism or hypocrisy.

"At the same time as African farmers are told that they can no longer have free seeds or fertilisers, US farmers are receiving an average US $20,000 a year in subsidies - which is soon to increase by 70 percent - and EU [European Union] farmers US $16,000," noted the briefing paper.

It cited an IMF evaluation that found that in Zambia between 1991 and 1994, the liberalisation of state marketing had contributed to a 30 percent increase in rural poverty. "It is clear that without some form of state intervention as a safety net, poor people have become much more vulnerable to shocks such as erratic weather. Unfortunately, the IMF and other donors are not learning this lesson."

African countries also face gigantic hurdles in establishing an agro-export economy to trade their way out of poverty, due to tariff barriers and produce dumping by European and US producers. "Rich countries spend vast sums of money protecting the interests of their producers, while at the same time forcing poor countries to open their markets to subsidised imports," Oxfam argued.

Chris Kaye believes that both regional governments and the international community need to reform the way they operate, and develop a "compact" on the way forward.

"Governments must wake up to their responsibilities and show they are caring for their own people, because if they don't, no self-respecting donor will do that for them." By the same token, he said, the depth of the problems confronted by the region required a "much more concerted effort by donors ... otherwise Southern Africa will go down the tube".


Southern Africa: Year-Ender 2002 - the Scramble for Food

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

January 20, 2003

The year 2002 in Southern Africa was marked by a scramble for food - by the over 14 million people who faced starvation, and by humanitarian agencies begging international donors for the urgent funds needed to buy food to prevent a catastrophe.

As nutritionists watched malnutrition rates spiral, and clinic workers tended to emaciated mothers and their children, the presidents of Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Lesotho declared a disaster and appealed to the international community for help. Developments in Swaziland and Mozambique were also worrying.

Unlike the drought of 1992 that saw swathes of Southern Africa reduced to bare trees and parched clay, the current erratic weather patterns were accompanied by the challenges of economic crises, tenuous national grain reserves and a growing realisation of the devastating effect HIV/AIDS was having on families and communities.

Initial estimates said that about 12 million people would need help until the harvest this April and May, but subsequent assessments revised this to over 14 million. By the end of the year, as figures started trickling in from the latest vulnerability assessments, it was clear that even more people would need help. In Zimbabwe the figure has leapt from about six million people - half the population - to at least 7.2 million.

Humanitarian workers distributing lifesaving rations of maize, corn soya blend, pulses and cooking oil reported that families throughout the region had exhausted their coping mechanisms. They had sold everything of value to buy food. Competition with other equally desperate families meant they often received far less than the item's true worth.

Women walked for miles to sell water to truck drivers, they scoured the land for firewood to barter for food, took their children out of school to help and in their most desperate hour, some turned to prostitution. Men tried to find casual labour, they traveled to cities in the hopes of finding a job or risked their lives by searching for traces of gold in closed and dangerous mines. In Malawi, many smallholder farmers, who already sat in front of empty fields because they did not have money to buy fertiliser to coax a meagre crop from their soil, lost their chance of casual labour on other farms when they were weakened by one of the worst cholera epidemics in years. In Lesotho, villagers dependent on food aid were cut off from supplies when thick snow fell in the highest mountain regions.

In July the World Food Programme (WFP) launched a massive appeal for the US $507 million they would need to tide families over until the next harvest and hoped to meet 67 percent of the region's emergency needs.

"It has been a very challenging year," said Deborah Saidy, WFP Deputy Emergency Coordinator for Southern Africa.

Saidy explained that the organisation had opened a new office in Swaziland, had scaled up operations in other countries in response to the extra needs, and had identified implementing partners.

"It has been a difficult year for sure. We have seen people resort to disastrous coping measures and there is no doubt that because this current food crisis comes on top of HIV/AIDS, it is extremely difficult for the populations affected," Saidy said.

"For many people this is the second or third consecutive year of erratic weather conditions or economic hardship. Southern Africa is no stranger to natural disaster like localised flooding, hail or drought, but this time a very broad area was affected by drought and many countries did not have strategic reserves.

"If we compare this disaster with [the regional drought of] 1992, HIV/AIDS has taken hold much more firmly and we see a far higher number of dependents and more child-headed households," Saidy said.

Tracking charts show that general food distribution in the six countries from July varied, reflecting difficulties NGOs faced. In Malawi distribution was generally high, but in Zimbabwe this plummeted to just 17 percent of beneficiaries in August. The figure for Zambia was 28 percent in October while in Mozambique, 56 percent of beneficiaries were reached in December.

Saidy explained that the varying figures were due to a number of constrains faced by humanitarian workers. An unexpected and significant setback was the rejection of genetically modified (GM) food by some countries. Most have now agreed to accept milled GM food, while Zambia will announce its revised position later this month in parliament. However, as the saga unfolded, agencies were left desperately trying to find alternative food to give to beneficiaries.

Conversely, deliveries to countries like Swaziland went very smoothly without any constraints, she said.

However, in spite of the difficulties, the latest situation report from Zambia does chalk up many achievements. Seeds and inputs were distributed, food for work rations were provided for preparation work for conservation farming techniques, insecticide treated nets were distributed, therapeutic feeding programmes were strengthened and sexual exploitation training was conducted for staff directly connected to food distribution.

"The donor response to the South African operation was very generous but now we're at the peak of the crisis and we expect a shortfall of 300,000 mt urgently. Zimbabwe is of the most concern because half the population requires food aid," Saidy said.

In December Zimbabwe's inflation rate reached 198 percent, reflecting the severity of circumstances the average Zimbabwean faces.

Andrew Timpson, Senior Humanitarian Affairs Officer in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the humanitarian programme in Zimbabwe was "in a state of catch up" during 2002 as assessments gave a stronger idea of new areas of vulnerabilities, tonnages [of food aid] and dealt with problems registering NGO partners allowed to deliver food aid.

Timpson said that although the food appeal was 67 percent funded which was considered good, education, water, sanitation and health programmes were not well recoursed.

Under the land reform programme, which reached its peak in 2002, there was concern over underutilisation of newly settled land and the possibility of lower crop yields. In addition there was uncertainty about farmers' tenure and it appeared that the government owned the land, making it difficult for farmers to access credit at the banks, Timpson said.

However, while the resettled farmers battle to eke out a living, the plight of farmworkers was becoming increasingly worrying. A maximum of 10 percent received farms, while many others were evicted and made homeless. Those who received retrenchment packages from the former farm owners have tried to make the funds last, while others are particularly vulnerable and relying on NGOs like the Farm Community Trust of Zimbabwe for food.

Timpson said another group of vulnerable people in Zimbabwe was people living in urban areas.

For Angola the year was a mixture of triumph and frustration. While the ceasefire opened the country to many new business opportunities, it also allowed humanitarian workers to access new areas and the full impact of the war on the lives of millions of people was finally realised. Millions of people needed food aid, medical facilities and schools. And while organisations like WFP and Medecines Sans Frontieres pushed to reach more and more people, they were hampered by landmines, poor roads and rutted runways. But as countries take stock of what needs to be done for the year ahead, there is one aspect that they have no control over - the weather. Erratic weather continues to threaten all recovery efforts and as Malawi and Mozambique emerge from a flood and a cyclone, many parts of the region are now bracing themselves for yet another year of drought, and the parched conditions that meteorologists warn another El Nino will bring.

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Date distributed (ymd): 030129 Region: Southern Africa Issue Areas: +economy/development+ +security/peace+ +health+


Message-Id: <> From: "Africa Action" <> Date: Wed, 29 Jan 2003 16:47:52 -0500 Subject: Southern Africa: Famine & AIDS Update

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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