Trucks will be rolling hard throughout southern Africa in the coming year as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) scale up their operations to meet the food needs of the most vulnerable people in the region who are suffering food shortages as a result of poor harvests across much of southern Africa.
So says Claudia Altorio, communications officer of the WFP, telling FleetWatch that, according to the Southern African Development Community 2015 Vulnerability Assessments, there will be an estimated 27.4 million food-insecure people in the region during the next six months.
WFP is the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide, delivering food assistance in emergencies and working with communities to improve nutrition and build resilience. Each year, WFP assists some 80 million people in around 80 countries.
WFP, FAO and other partners are closely monitoring the El Niño weather phenomenon which could significantly impact southern Africa following a poor agricultural season in 2014/15. The intensity of the El Niño is increasing towards a peak expected in late 2015 and may become one of the strongest such events on record.
The region faces the risk of another poor rainfall season and harvest resulting in a “significant increase in food and nutrition insecurity in the region,” according to the latest update from the Southern Africa Food and Nutrition Working Group.
Food insecurity means that people struggle to buy or produce enough nutritious food to lead a healthy life. Most at threat from immediate food insecurity are Malawi, Zimbabwe and Madagascar which all suffered severe crop failure due to extended dry spells – combined, in Malawi, with extensive flooding and in Madagascar, with the effects of strong tropical storms.
There are also concerns about growing food insecurity in Lesotho and the southern parts of Angola and Mozambique. While Botswana and Namibia also suffered from extensive drought earlier this year, people in these countries are not considered as much at risk.
The poor harvest experienced by farmers across the region will negatively impact the capacity of vulnerable farmers to purchase seeds, fertilizer and other necessities for the current planting season.
Worst food insecurity in a decade
Malawi is experiencing the worst food insecurity in a decade and 2.8 million people are reported to be food insecure. FAO and WFP are implementing various measures to alleviate the situation.
WFP is planning to assist 2.4 million food-insecure people during the height of the lean season, the period prior to the next harvest when domestic food stocks become depleted. Lean season activities will combine food assistance with cash transfers in areas where market conditions allow. So far this year, WFP has already provided food assistance to one million people who have been affected by floods.
Zimbabwe: Harvest Down by Half
It is estimated that at least 1.5 million people will be food insecure in Zimbabwe in coming months following a harvest that was down 50 percent on last year. FAO is working with the government to support resilience building approaches among vulnerable groups. Some 34 irrigation schemes in drought prone districts are being rehabilitated. As many as 127 000 smallholder farmers are receiving support to adopt climate smart technologies and increase their access to rural finance.
In the livestock sector, FAO is providing support to 40 000 smallholder households to engage in commercial livestock production. The organization is also responding to the foot and mouth disease outbreak in some parts of the country where 5.4 million doses of vaccines are still required. FAO has also prepared a drought mitigation programme, for which there is a financial gap of US$32 million, to support livestock and crop farmers with stock feed and seeds respectively, in the most affected parts of the country.
WFP is working with the government and partners to assist some 400 000 of the most vulnerable people, scaling up to reach 850 000 people at the height of the lean season. Assistance will be given in the form of both food and cash transfers.
Compounding the food insecurity situation are the region’s high levels of chronic malnutrition in children and of HIV prevalence in adults – both are among the highest in the world.
The UN agencies have expressed gratitude for the generous contributions made so far in support of the vulnerable people of the region. However, they are facing significant shortfalls and, unless more funding is forthcoming, it will not be possible to provide needed assistance to all those in need.