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Humanitarian Crisis (Southern Africa)

Volume 407: debated on Monday 23 June 2003

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Six countries in Southern Africa (Zimbabwe, Zambia, Lesotho, Swaziland, Malawi and Mozambique) have been suffering food shortages since early 2002. To avert a major catastrophe the international community has provided food aid and other assistance to over 14 million people, half of these in Zimbabwe. The international effort is continuing but adjustments are being made to take account of changing circumstances.

HUMANITARIAN EFFORT SO FAR

The United Nations has led an international relief effort to provide food and other aid to those in need. The UK Government have provided extensive support to the countries in the region affected by the crisis and has been the second biggest bilateral contributor to the humanitarian effort there. DFID has so far provided over £106 million in response to the crisis since September 2001, as well as over £21 million as the UK share of EU assistance. UK resources have gone to the World Food Programme and other UN agencies, but we have also worked with organisations such as Save the Children to deliver assistance direct to vulnerable communities. In Zimbabwe, DFID established feeding programmes targeting 1.5 million children and vulnerable adults each day. While many countries in the region have made strong efforts to manage the crisis effectively, there is no doubt that poor governance has made the crisis worse in Zimbabwe. A list of UK contributions is available on the DFID website: www.dfid.gov.uk.

CURRENT SITUATION

Harvests have improved across most of the region, though full crop assessments for some countries are not yet ready. There is expected to be little need for food aid in Malawi and Zambia where food supplies are good. In Swaziland and Lesotho, harvests are again poor but the small populations and relatively good access mean that the problems there are manageable. The position in Mozambique is variable, with a surplus in the north, patchy harvest in the centre, and a very poor harvest in the south. Some areas are suffering their third year of drought and the Mozambican authorities forecast that at least 650,000 people will require assistance of some kind this year.

In contrast to this general improvement, the position in Zimbabwe remains critical. An increased grain harvest is predicted, of perhaps 800,000 metric tonnes (MT) of maize. But this still falls far short of normal national requirements of 1.8 million MT and is offset by the impact of the economic collapse there on the Government's ability to import grain through commercial channels. On balance, donors are likely to aim to import about the same amount of food as last year. The numbers in need of assistance will vary through the year. During the present harvest period, about 2 million people (out of a total population of about 11.6 million) are receiving food aid. Later in the year, this number is likely to rise to between 5 and 7 million. Updated information on the crisis is available through http://www.reliefweb.int/ and through the UN-managed Southern Africa Information Management System (SAHIMS) http://www.sahims.net/

DFID RESPONSE

DFID has allocated £43.3m for the current financial year as follows:

Zimbabwe35.0 m
Mozambique1.3 m
Zambia2.0 m

Swaziland/Lesotho1.0 m
Regional UN structures2.0 m
Reserve2.0 m
Total£43.3 m

Of this, about £19m is for carry over activities started during 2002–03 and the remainder is for new commitments. The main channels for our funding will be the World Food Programme, our bilateral feeding programmes in Zimbabwe (operated through NGOs), a range of agricultural recovery operations, some health supplies and some support to UN regional structures. We intend to review this level of funding in September and decide whether to allocate further funds to the crisis.

There has been considerable concern about possible distortion of food for political reasons in Zimbabwe. Food aid provided by the UN, bilateral donors (including DFID), and non-governmental organisations is distributed to targeted beneficiaries, selected in accordance with clear vulnerability criteria and regardless of political affiliation. By contrast, there has been sustained complaint from Zimbabweans that food distribution by the Government's Grain Marketing Board has been both biased and corrupt. The UN and donors have stressed to the Zimbabwe Government the need to allocate food strictly in accordance with humanitarian principles and will continue to seek ways of monitoring this.

In addition to funding, DFID plans to pursue a number of policy issues which will be important in improving international humanitarian performance in the region. These include the impact of HIV/AIDS, ways of assessing need and vulnerability, and alternative delivery mechanisms eg food-for-work.

LONGER-TERM RESPONSE

The relative severity of the humanitarian crisis in Southern Africa is leading to a reassessment of the significance of food shortages to the development prospects for the region. This reassessment is taking the very high rates of HIV/AIDS infection in Southern Africa into account. DFID is working with the countries in the region, the UN, other donors and researchers to improve our understanding of the interaction between variable climatic conditions, HIV/AIDS and poverty and their impact on the vulnerability of poor communities. As part of this work, the UK will develop a strategy later this year for tackling hunger and vulnerability in Southern Africa over the medium term.

In the meantime, it is important to ensure vulnerable households affected by chronic illness are included in humanitarian feeding and that lessons on how to reach the poorest groups are learned and applied. We also need to improve the management of humanitarian aid in order to maximise long-term benefits and avoid damaging distortions to local markets.