Founder : Len Abrams
Water Policy International
Drought and Famine in
A review of the crisis
11 August 2002
The countries of concern, to differing degrees, are Angola, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
World Food Programme (WFP), Date: 1 Jul 2002, Southern Africa Crisis Response (EMOP 10200) “Food security in the Southern Africa region is at its lowest level since 1992, when a devastating drought struck ten countries in the region. Today there are six countries in the region - Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe - where approximately 13 million people are facing a severe food crisis over the next nine months. These countries have generally benefited from sustained periods of peace and stability in recent years, allowing national governments to focus on development priorities. Recent shocks threaten to erode current development efforts. The contributing factors are many and vary from country to country, as does the severity of the crisis. Among the principal factors are a volatile mix of drought, floods, disruptions to commercial farming, the absence of effective food security and governance policies, depletion of strategic grain reserves, poor economic performance, foreign exchange shortages and delays in the timely importation of maize. The complex interaction between these dynamics is expected to dramatically reduce both availability of, and market access to, cereals throughout the region.
Underlying factors reduce household and national resilience to the current shocks. The region has the highest rates of HIV/AIDS infection in the world, ranging from 13% of the adult population in Mozambique to over 25% in Swaziland. In addition to lost productivity, lost income, and increased time pressures on caregivers, the impact of HIV/AIDS is changing family structures (with increasing numbers of elderly and child-headed households) as well as exceeding community care capacities throughout the region. Macro-economic indicators are in decline throughout the region. One indicative example is that the percentage of Malawi's population living below the poverty line increased from 60% in 1996 to 65% in 2001. Similar trends are found throughout the region.”
World Health Organization (WHO), 4 Aug 2002:- “The crisis affects mainly Malawi, Zambia, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and part of Mozambique. However one should not lose sight of the structural vulnerability of Namibia, too, nor of the humanitarian predicament of nearby Angola, different in its causes but equally daunting.
Currently between 12 and 14 million people in Southern Africa are at risk as a result of the humanitarian crisis. The conditions are resulting in increased malnutrition levels particularly among children. This is associated with increased susceptibility to illness which is already resulting in higher mortality rates in all groups, with a crude mortality in some areas approaching two per 10,000 people per day.
It is common knowledge that dry weather and erratic rainfall over the past two years have led to a severe decline in production. In some countries, this is compounded by economic crisis, instability and population displacement, resulting in widespread food shortages. The underlying high prevalence of HIV infection, and AIDS, has resulted in reduced production in household units and affected communities, and reduced numbers of health workers, teachers, etc.”
USAID Famine Early Warning System Network, 15 Jul 2002:- “The threat of famine is very real in part of Southern Africa, but it would be a misrepresentation of facts to characterize the entire region in this way. The emerging food security crisis in Southern Africa is - to a large degree - a result of policy and governance failures, compounded by a prolonged period of drought during the second half of the agricultural season (January to March 2002) - the most critical period of maize development. Understanding country differences, the multiple causes and how they reinforce and interact are important factors in determining whether the current food security situation could deteriorate into a famine. These differences are also important in highlighting appropriate short-term emergency relief measures to address the current problem and longer-term recovery and development actions to prevent future famine threats.
The most at-risk populations are in Zimbabwe and Malawi, and to a lesser extent Zambia (see regional map). Zimbabwe, a major surplus producer of maize in the 1980s, is at the heart of the regional problem. The magnitude and centrality of the Zimbabwe deficit has spilled over to affect prices and food access throughout Southern Africa. Looking to next year, with appropriate policy changes and responsible governance, there is no reason that Zimbabwe could not regain its standing as a food surplus country. An increasing number of rural households in Malawi, on the other hand, are becoming impoverished, and thus chronically food insecure, leaving many households with few opportunities for alternative income. Zambia's food security problems this year are serious in the southern part of the country and are mostly the result of multiple years of drought, rather than policy and governance issues. Still, these issues are compounded by the already high poverty levels making it increasingly difficult for affected households to respond to the current food problems without external assistance.”
Summary of situation
Numbers at a glance -- Populations in need of food aid
Population in Need1
Jun 02 - Aug 02
Population in Need1 Sep 02 - Nov 02
Population in Need1 Dec 02 - Mar 03
Cereal Food Aid Needs (MT) through Mar 03
1 Anticipated populations and food aid needs between June 2002 and March 2003 are based on WFP/FAO assessments during April and May 2002. Source: USAID update.
Figure 1:- USAID Famine Early Warning System Network
The following country summaries were compiled by the BBC on 25 July 2002:-
This is the worst affected country, and hundreds of people have already died. Up to three million are facing starvation, mostly in the southern part of the country. Out of 27 districts, 14 were hit by floods and six others experienced dry spells. But the situation has been made worse by the sale of surplus grain in 2001 after a bumper harvest in 2000. Malawi needs 485,000 tonnes of food to avert widespread hunger.
Erratic rainfall political instability, and seizure of white commercial farming land have contributed to a poor harvest in the 2001/2002 season. The southern and western regions of Matabeleland and Masvingo are worst hit. Zimbabwe could face a maize deficit of 1.5 million tonnes. About six million people will need food aid. Evidence is emerging that political factors are stopping food aid reaching some people.
Officials say two million people face starvation and the country could run out of food by July or August. Severe drought has caused total crop failure in the south and east of the country. Maize production fell by 30% in the 2000/2001 season, meaning there was little in store when this year's crops also failed. A maize shortage of 630,000 tonnes is estimated.
The medical relief organisation Medecins sans Frontieres estimates that at least 1.5 million people are suffering from acute malnutrition.
After two years of devastating floods, a prolonged drought is said to have affected an area of 90,000 hectares and about 100,000 households. There have been severe dry spells and drought in the 2001/2002 season in northern Mozambique and heavy rain and floods in southern and central areas. United Nations agencies say more than 500,000 people need food aid. The situation is also compounded by sharp rises in price of staple foods and delays in maize deliveries, particularly from South Africa.
The government declared a state of famine in April. The 2002 harvest is said to be 60% below normal and UN agencies say some 500,000 will require emergency food aid throughout the country. Other factors: decline in production of Lesotho's major crops, falling remittance from workers employed in South African mines because of retrenchment and poverty.
Erratic weather for a second consecutive year is being blamed for food shortages. According to the UN agencies, production is 18% down on last year's already poor harvest. This year more than 100,000 tonnes of cereal will need to be imported. Two-thirds of Swaziland's population live below the poverty line and prices of maize and wheat have been rising.
The emergency is developing out of a complex background with many compounding factors which vary from country to country.
The World Food Program (WFP) comments that “the principal threats to food security are many, and vary in severity from country to country:
• Severe dry spells / drought:
Malawi, Mozambique 2001/2002, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
• Heavy rain / floods:
Lesotho, south & central Mozambique 2000/2001.
• Disruption to commercial farming:
• Depletion of strategic grain reserves:
Malawi 2001, Zambia.
• Poor economic performance:
• Delays in importation of maize, particularly from South Africa:
• Sharp rises in price of staple foods:
Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe
In many places, this is the second or third consecutive year of food shortages and many people's so-called 'coping mechanisms', such as selling livestock to pay for food are exhausted. Today, they are fighting for survival.”
To these factors needs to be added the impact of HIV/AIDS, as stressed by WHO and others:-
HIV/AIDS prevalence. (UNAIDS July 2002)
Weather and ENSO predictions
SADC Drought Monitoring Center “There has been a prolonged dry spell since the end of December 2001 particularly over southern Zimbabwe, eastern Botswana, southern Mozambique, extreme northeast and some parts of southwestern South Africa.
The dry spell was further enhanced by anomalous Indian Ocean high-pressure systems that were inhibiting southward movement of the ITCZ. This high-pressure system was extending into the middle troposphere, thereby suppressing the favourable weather conditions.
There has also been a dominant surface trough for most of the period resulting in dry continental northerly flow which gave rise to very high surface temperatures.”
Weather reports and predictions from the region, compiled by the SADC Drought Monitoring Centre and posted in their “10 Day Drought Watch Bulletin” show the last bulletin dated 1-10 May 2002. Although this is somewhat out of date, the report for rainfall in the region indicates severe shortages which is indicative of the season as a whole.
El Niño & Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Update - July 2002
The beginning of an El Nino phenomena continues to manifest itself according to observation from major climate centres; e.g. NCEP/CPC/IRI.
The low frequency intraseasonal oscillation, Madden-Julian Oscillation (30 to 60 day oscillation in the coupled tropical ocean-atmosphere system) continues to show an eastward progression of enhanced and suppressed convection as well as low level and upper level wind anomalies. This has resulted in weakening of low-level equatorial easterly winds over the central Pacific (140-175°W).
Most of the latest statistical and coupled model predictions show a weak to moderate El- Niño conditions will continue through early 2003. Some of the models project even neutral conditions. The various projections from major modelling centres depict that on average neutral or El Nino conditions projections dominate.
It is important to take into account that the extreme climate anomalies over southern Africa have occurred in both active and neutral phases of ENSO. The potential impact of the current and projected status of the El-Nino phenomenon and other relevant attributes of the climate anomalies over southern Africa will only be possible to predict once the pre-SARCOF capacity building workshop to be held in late August and SARCOF meeting in early September 2002. This will come with the seasonal forecast for the year 2002/03.
SADC Political comment
PRETORIA, August 8 (AFP) - Finance ministers from the 14-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) on Thursday urged governments in their region to do more to tackle the famine threatening seven countries there.
"(The ministers) emphasised the collective responsibility of all SADC governments to take the lead in addressing this issue given the dire implication for the region," said a statement issued at the end of the ministers' meeting in the South African capital Pretoria.
They voiced "deep concern" over the food crisis affecting Angola, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
"Ministers also stressed the importance of developing post-recovery programme to tackle the results of the drought across the region," the statement said.
The SADC ministers acknowledged the international community's efforts to mobilising resources to address the food crisis.
Country status reports
More detailed status reports of the effected countries have been reviewed from a number of agencies. Provided here are updates prepared by USAID and the World Food Program.
USAID Country Updates 12 July 2002
Zimbabwe. The U.N. has appealed for $285 million to help Zimbabweans survive the worst food shortage in Zimbabwe in 50 years. The U.N.'s priorities are agricultural recovery, education and child protection, health services including tackling HIV/AIDS, and economic recovery and infrastructure.
WFP reported on July 19 that the Zimbabwe food pipeline is the most fragile in the region. Although 75,000 MT of mixed commodities are expected to arrive before the end of November, according to WFP, this covers only 25 percent of the needs. WFP stocks at the beginning of July were only 3,770 MT. WFP warned that unless the Zimbabwe pipeline is boosted dramatically, the humanitarian situation is certain to deteriorate.
On July 23, World Vision International announced the recent launch of a USAID-supported food aid program to benefit approximately 100,000 people affected by the food crisis in the Beitbridge and Bulilimamangwe districts of Matabeleland. World Vision plans to distribute the 12,150 MT of corn meal, 700 MT of beans, and 540 MT of oil valued at $6.3 million, provided through USAID's Title II program, to beneficiaries in the two districts over a period of nine months. The total funding from USAID is $8.2 million in cash and food commodities while World Vision contributed $130,417 cash.
Malawi. Despite local media reports of famine causing hundreds of deaths per day in Malawi, USAID/Lilongwe, other donors, and NGOs do not consider this credible information. Reliable mortality statistics relating to food insecurity are not presently available. However, mortality rates in Malawi are high due to a complex combination of interrelated factors including chronic malnutrition, high HIV/AIDS infection rates, endemic diseases such as cholera and malaria, lack of sufficient immunization coverage, and food shortages. Food shortages have exacerbated the vulnerability of Malawians already suffering from adverse health conditions.
Life expectancy is under 40 years and decreasing because of HIV/AIDS that affects approximately 16 percent of the adult population and reaches as high as 40 percent in some places, such as Blantyre and Lilongwe. In addition, the chronic malnutrition rate in Malawi is 49 percent, due to long-term under-nutrition caused primarily by poverty. This high level of poverty-induced, chronic malnutrition has left large numbers of the population vulnerable to the current food shortages.
The U.N. has requested more than $144 million from donors to meet food and non-food humanitarian needs in Malawi, including emergency nutrition, water and sanitation, disease surveillance and other health activities, agricultural inputs, and coordination. On July 19, WFP reported it has sufficient cereal stocks to cover the food aid needs in Malawi until the end of September but urgently needs additional contribution. WFP also reported that the Government of Malawi finalized a contract to purchase 250,000 MT of corn.
In addition to the nearly 20,000 MT of food worth approximately $10 million already donated by the USG to Malawi through USAID/FFP and USDA, USAID/Lilongwe has approved the Government of Malawi's use of $10 million slated for general budget assistance for corn imports instead. In addition, USAID/Lilongwe recently provided approximately $1 million to the NGO consortium in Malawi to support the coordination and logistics of food distribution.
Zambia. The U.N. has requested donors to contribute more than $71 million to meet emergency needs in Zambia for food aid, agriculture, health, education, and water and sanitation. According to WFP, the Government of Zambia plans to buy 25-30,000 MT of local corn to build up their strategic food reserves.
In addition to the 23,500 MT of emergency food commodities valued at nearly $10 million, donated to Zambia by USAID/FFP and USDA, State/PRM recently announced a contribution of $1 million to WFP for refugee feeding in Zambia. Zambia is host to approximately 250,000 refugees.
Mozambique. The U.N. did not issue an emergency appeal for Mozambique in accordance with the wishes of the Government of Mozambique (GRM). The U.N. reported that the U.N. Country Team would continue to monitor the situation. WFP reported on July 19 that it has sufficient cereal stocks to cover the needs in Mozambique until the end of September but urgently requires beans from August onwards. Assessments jointly conducted by the GRM, WFP, FEWS NET, and other partners are planned within the next few weeks in order to refine estimates of humanitarian needs in all relevant sectors.
Lesotho. For Lesotho, the U.N. has appealed to donors to provide approximately $41 million to meet emergency needs. In addition to food relief, the U.N. seeks to support the Government of Lesotho in addressing critical humanitarian problems in the sectors of health, nutrition, agriculture, and water and sanitation. WFP reported on July 19 that regional purchases of 2,500 MT of corn meal and 400 MT of beans for the emergency operation in Lesotho are underway, and distributions are expected to begin by early August.
Swaziland. The U.N. has appealed to donors for $19 million to meet relief needs in Swaziland through programs in food aid, nutrition, water and sanitation, shelter for child-headed households, agricultural inputs, cholera prevention, and coordination. WFP reported on July 19 that the first consignments of WFP food aid borrowed from the Mozambique program under the Emergency Operation arrived in Swaziland on July 13. The shipment consisted of 240 MT of beans and 30 MT of yellow corn. Distribution is currently underway.
Famine Early Warning System Network, 15 Jul 2002
Zimbabwe is under the threat of famine
In Zimbabwe, the combination of poor policies and governance failure has set the stage for this year's drought to have a much larger effect than it normally would have. The continuing economic decline due to a combination of factors - including a coercive and ill-advised land distribution program - has put a large portion of the population at risk of food shortages, and hence food access. Also, the politicization of the current food security crisis makes responding to the serious food security situation more complex, and less effective. Other significant problems such as the very high prevalence of HIV/AIDS - as high as 34 percent in both rural and urban areas according to UN/AIDS - and increasing poverty levels will make recovery difficult and costly.
The current threat of famine in Zimbabwe has both severe food availability and food acces s dimensions. On the food availability side, Zimbabwe - once a cereal-exporting nation - produced less than a quarter of its national cereal requirements this past agricultural season. The WFP Regional EMOP (10200) states that the Zimbabwe requires 705,000 MT of food aid between July 2002 and March 2003. Given that the cereal deficit is almost 1.9 million MT, this means that the balance of over 1.1 million MT must be imported into the country, either by the public or private sector. This large import requirement is unlikely to be met given the Government of Zimbabwe's fiscal situation (exacerbated by the potential loss of foreign exchange earned from tobacco and cotton sales as commercial farmers are required to stop production activities). The government's inability to work out a policy on importing or accepting genetically modified cereals further complicates the task of closing this food gap. Moreover, the private sector is not in a position to import a significant amount of cereals because of serious foreign exchange constraints, limitations on borrowing due to high interest rates and high risks due to an uncertain policy environment, unrealistic price controls and government restrictions on the role of the private sector. Serious shortages of major food and non food commodities already exist, and there is every indication that this situation will worsen. The current system cannot meet existing needs, and will not be able to meet expanded needs between now and the next harvest (expected April 2003). It is difficult to see how conditions will improve over the coming year. Unless numerous policy changes are made, there is unlikely that the next harvest will be any better than this year, even if normal rains return.
Not only does the poor production constrain food access, but Zimbabwe's current financial and food crises are certain to deepen, and will further erode the purchasing power of households in both the rural and urban areas. Large numbers of unemployed commercial farm workers purchased most of their food in past years, but now have limited resources to do so. In addition, poorer segments of the communal small holder population normally buy a significant portion of their food, even in good years. The decrease in productivity in rural areas and the increasing cost of living in urban areas (worsened by high rates of unemployment) are contributing to the rapidly declining purchasing power of households and mounting food access problems. There are early indications that the emergency response will be complicated by several factors, including the large number of households, reduced stocks partially because of cereal shortages in the previous marketing year, Zimbabwe's refusal to accept genetically modified cereals, the politicization of food aid and major distribution and logistical challenges. All of these issues could severely hamper the emergency response and increase the probability that the situation in Zimbabwe could deteriorate into a famine.
The geographic location, the magnitude of its food deficit and large rates of poverty and unemployment suggest that the preconditions for famine - especially in urban areas - currently exist in Zimbabwe. The measures taken by the Government of Zimbabwe to date have made the emergency response more difficult, including limiting the ability of international institutions to respond. There is also the danger that Zimbabwe's crisis could increasingly spill over (for example refugees) into neighboring countries, where the food security situation is now manageable.
Malawi faces significant food access problems
Malawi is experiencing a very serious food security crisis at the present time, which could evolve into famine conditions if the emergency response is not large or timely enough. Although food availability is a potential problem between now and the next harvest in April 2003, the larger concern is household food access. Upwards of 60 percent of rural households in Malawi are already food insecure every year, due to increasing poverty, which results from high population density, shrinking farm sizes, the loss of soil fertility and growing numbers of landless orphans and widows with few opportunities for alternative income. This structural food insecurity has been exacerbated by two successive poor harvests, very low levels of national cereal stocks and a combination of flooding and dry spells. The extraordinary price rises that occurred in that last quarter of 2001 and early this year (in some cases more than 300 percent compared to one year before) meant that these already poor households are simply unable to address the current production shortfall through increasing purchases or exploiting alternative production options.
Although food availability is worrying, other factors might increase the availability of cereals and other foods in Malawi markets. First, there is a significant volume of informal trade in cereals from Mozambique and Tanzania, especially in areas of Malawi that have experienced food deficits. Second, the consumption rate used to estimate cereal requirements in Malawi is considered to be high (2200 kcal/person/day), and therefore the actual cereal deficit this year is likely to be significantly smaller. Finally, there are some stocks in the Strategic Grain Reserve - replenished with funds from the European Union. But unless these supply increases bring down food prices to last year's levels, access problems will worsen.
In short, the main issue is inadequate household food access due to low income levels and higher than normal prices. This will limit households' ability to purchase food even when it is available. The success of the emergency response over the next several months - in terms of level and timeliness - will be the critical indicator of whether food assistance will attenuate the pre-famine conditions or allow the food security crisis to evolve into a famine. FEWS NET expects that prices will again rise to very high levels, leaving a potentially large part of the population unable to purchase their staple food needs. FEWS NET will monitor markets and make frequent field visits to continually assess the level of staple food prices.
Zambia could experience increased food insecurity in some areas of the country
Zambia is also experiencing a short-term serious food security crisis, but it currently appears to be much more localized and ultimately more manageable than Zimbabwe. The level of this year's food production is around 24 percent lower than last year's below-average production, and well below average production, primarily as a result of prolonged dry spells in some parts of the country. Heavy crop losses in the west, south, east and parts of central Zambia have left around 20 percent of the population in need of assistance.
Food availability problems this year are serious, but well within the ability of the Government and donors to manage. Zambia, like Malawi, has informal trade links with Mozambique and Tanzania, which should reduce the amount of maize that needs to be formally imported into the country, either by the Government's Food Reserve Agency or commercial traders. One aspect to monitor is whether or not the Government provides a clear signal to commercial traders about its import intentions and potential support for commercial imports (last year the Government subsidized commercial imports). If this signal is made early and clear it would encourage the commercial sector to import. If not, then commercial traders could delay importing maize, resulting in a serious food shortfall as was the case in the middle of the 2001/02 marketing season. Normal levels of wheat and rice are likely to be forthcoming through normal commercial trade. Also, cassava is available in the northern parts of Zambia, but it is mostly consumed in the northern and western parts of the country.
Food access is a potentially more serious problem than food availability. As in all countries bordering Zimbabwe, prices are abnormally high and successive poor harvests in parts of the country have reduced poor households' ability to purchase food. FEWS NET and its network partners will monitor prices from now to the next harvest to assess whether the level of staple food prices has passed the threshold where a majority of households can no longer purchase their food needs.
SADC Food Security Program - In order to enhance food security for all in the region, SADC established a Food Security Programme. Its secretariat is formed by the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources (FANR) Development Unit in Harare, Zimbabwe.
Relief Web - ReliefWeb is a project of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). For information on the current crisis in Southern Africa see Southern African Humanitarian Crisis
IRI - International Research Institute for Climate Prediction. Research and information on El Nino and its effects.
Report on the Global HIV/AIDS Epidemic 2002 - July 2002, UNAIDS
FEWS-NET The Goal of the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) is to strengthen the abilities of African countries and regional organizations to manage risk of food insecurity through the provision of timely and analytical early warning and vulnerability information.
WFP - World Food Program in depth review of the unfolding crisis in Southern Africa.
DMC - The SADC Drought Monitoring Centre - The main objective of the SADC DMC is to contribute to climate monitoring and and prediction for early warning and mitigation of adverse impacts of extreme climatic events on agricultural production, food security, water resources , energy, and health among other socio-economic sectors.
The Africa Desk of the US Climate Prediction Centre - The African Desk was established in 1994 to focus on short term climate monitoring and predictions for Africa. The objective of the African Desk is to develop a partnership between NCEP and the African Meteorological Services through data and product exchange and to create of a cadre of meteorologists who can use and apply NCEP products in their local and general area of interest.
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