Memorandum submitted by OCHA (UN Office
for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs)
1. Factors contributing to the food crisis:
Steps taken to mitigate
Effective governance or lack thereof has been
a major factor in precipitating the current food crisis. The most
obvious example is of course in Zimbabwe where political expediency
has precluded any rational approach to ensuring the food security
of the country. The fast track land reform process has effectively
killed off the ability of the commercial farming sector to provide
for the country as well as Zimbabwe's neighbours. In Malawi and
Zambia, poor Government choices have also exacerbated the crisis
although the relative impact on the region has not been so significant
as the structural changes to land tenure and economic generation
taking place in Zimbabwe.
Following the drought in 92-93, many advocated
for greater diversification of agricultural production especially
at the level of the small holder, in order to escape the over
dependence on maize. The evidence would suggest that this has
been less than successful and still millions of people through
the southern African region depend on growing maize as the principle
means of food security. This continuing over reliance on the one
staple impacts on diet / nutrition as well as the capacity for
coping with the "lean" years.
The region has taken significant steps forward
to predict food shortages. The current crisis has not yet fully
taken hold and the fact that there are considerable efforts underway
to address the needs is in itself evidence that these measures
are in place and are working. The work of the Southern Africa
Development Community (SADC)/Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources
(FANR) as well as those of Famine Early Warning System (FEWS)
are of note in this regard and have served to bolster ailing national
capacity in some cases (Malawi, Zambia particularly). Zimbabwe
here is again the exception. The Government of Zimbabwe announced
a Z$ 8 billion input scheme for the new settlers but this is by
far not enough. Over Z$ 70 billion will be needed. As a result
little to no preparations for the next agricultural season have
been undertaken. This area is also under funded by donors.
2. Ongoing Humanitarian Needs:
how adequately are they being addressed?
can humanitarian aid be used to mitigate
are the needs adequately resourced?
The United Nations (UN) appealed for US$ 611
million in July of this year of which US$ 507 million was for
food aid. While the response to these food aid needs is now beginning
to occur, the response has been slow. This has meant that the
desired strategy of pre-positioning food in food insecure areas
ahead of the rainy season has not been possible. As a consequence,
it may be that some inaccessible areas will not receive food despite
the fact that it is available. This strategy was in itself a key
measure to mitigate against famine. Provided that the food pipeline
as requested by the World Food Programme (WFP) remains positive,
famine in the region can be averted. There remains an ongoing
concern however in Zimbabwe where the food gap remains considerable
in view of the restrictions on the private sector to import. Should
this situation continue, the food crisis in Zimbabwe is expected
to deepen markedly in early 2003 and despite a healthy food aid
pipeline, the amount will not be sufficient to meet all the needs.
While the emphasis of need in the region has
been for food, the crisis is of much wider dimensions and is a
reflection of the paucity of adequate social service provision.
Health services and capacities are diminishing throughout the
region although the effects appear to be particularly devastating
in Zimbabwe and Malawi where capacities to provide for the increasing
number of sick and malnourished are severe. The impact of HIV/AIDS
is fast eroding what limited human capacities exist and further
compounding the need. In this respect the needs in the non-food
sectors, although not presented as needing the same amount of
resources, are of equal importance to food. The response has however
not been equivalent and cannot be described as "adequately
3. Adequacy of the International Response:
is crisis management in the international
what support is needed to ensure
future food security?
There are a number of levels at which this needs
to be considered. Firstly, food insecurity in the region and its
causes have become well understood. This has allowed for the flags
to be raised sufficiently early enough to put the needs of the
region on the agenda. In this respect the international response
in terms of identification of the food security problem has been
adequate. However from another perspective (as indicated above),
the response to these identified needs has not been as quick nor
in the magnitude required. For this reason, there are gaps and
there will be problems in ensuring that the needs of all of those
identified as requiring assistance receive it. A third perspective
is that the response demanded so far has focused principally on
food and that that in itself is inadequate. While non-food needs
have been identified, there is a growing sense that the impact
of HIV/AIDS both as a cause and an effect of the current food
crisis has been underestimated in terms of response required.
As a consequence, the international response could be significantly
improved with a greater awareness of the impact of HIV/AIDS on
the food crisis and vice versa with a corresponding increase in
activities geared to address the needs of those affected by the
The crisis has thrown up a number of challenges
to the international crisis management system. On the one hand,
since responsibility for managing the crisis rests with the national
Government and that the majority of international actors engage
on a country by country basis, situating and responding to the
problem from a regional perspective has proved particularly challenging.
With the exception of WFP, the UN and donor governments have been
slow to establish mechanisms that could think and act on a regional
basis. This could easily be improved if the principle regional
institution (SADC) were more centrally engaged in managing the
crisis both politically, economically as well as operationally.
Currently, SADC engagement with the crisis is operational through
its technical body the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division, which while effective, represents only a segment of
the sorts of issues it should be involved with if it were to be
taken seriously as a Regional entity. With increased capacity
and responsibility, SADC could facilitate and lead a more dynamic
international response for the region particularly if it were
able to take more of a political and economic lead for its member
states. This in turn could enhance the prospects for improved
food security for the region. On the other hand, the national
responsibility for managing the crisis can prove to be difficult
if the national Government has a fundamentally different understanding
of the crisis and the needed response than other partners.
4. Balancing food aid and longer term measures:
what is and should be the role of
WFP, FAO and other UN organizations?
what part should food aid play in
development cooperation programmes?
how can the impact of food aid on
local markets be managed?
In the short term it is imperative that WFP
be given the requisite resources to deliver. As part of the process
of looking to the future WFP/UNICEF should be supported to provide
school feeding programmes. Food for work and food for asset creation
schemes should also be encouraged as far as relevant and appropriate.
It is essential however that food aid be:
(a) limited to support the most vulnerable;
(b) supported by initiatives that help affected
communities regain their own productive capacities; and
(c) do not overlap or compete with other
For this reason, FAO should be more visible
and more operationally active in the six affected countries. In
sum, the role of food in development cooperation programmes should
be kept to minimum and should only be used as a means to kick
start more self sustainable activities. If this approach can be
followed the impact on local markets can be contained. Considerable
attention has been and is being paid to this issue. Local businessmen
responded to this question during the UN Special Envoy mission
in Lesotho recently and argued that the short-term effects of
food aid on markets are minimal relative to the long-term benefits
of maintaining a customer base. The need to keep people alive
and getting them back into the productive economy is widely understood
as the priority.
5. Operational Constraints:
How does local politics influence
priorities and targeting?
Apart from availability of funds, the single
biggest constraint faced by the humanitarian assistance community
at the outset of the operation was the logistics capacity in the
region. Limited port handling capacity, deteriorating rail and
road infrastructure and lengthy customs clearance procedures were
identified as serious impediments. Much progress has been made
in this regard to the point where it is believed that there is
now sufficient capacity in the region for effective deliveries
to be made. Provision has been made to cope with the effects of
the rainy season and the difficulties this will pose in accessing
Local politics has not had a significant influence
in prioritizing and targeting assistance in the region with the
obvious exception of Zimbabwe. Politicisation of food aid in Zimbabwe
remains one of the main obstacles for mobilizing funds for food
and other types of emergency assistance. Politicisation of food
distribution is a major impediment to effective targeting in Zimbabwe.
Distribution problems have been highlighted viz. the Grain Marketing
Board (GMB) depots; the Government's food for work programme;
as well as food distribution by international donors, executed
by NGOs. There have been reports of specific examples of opposition
members being denied food assistance or access to the GMB sold
maize, as well as cases of children from known Movement for Democratic
Change (MDC) supporters being denied supplementary feeding at
school. In some cases, MDC supporters in rural areas have been
denied access to safe drinking water.
Targeting has also proved to be problematic
in Zimbabwe in view of political considerations. This has been
most clearly evident with respect to the needs of farm workers
affected by land redistribution. A careful estimate of the number
of farm workers so far affected (either displaced or remaining
jobless on farms) by the ongoing land redistribution exercise
is now revised to around 175,000 families or around 950,000 people.
The Government has so far been extremely reticent about the assistance
community addressing the needs of this group.
A third problem with targeting experienced notably
in Zimbabwe and Malawi is that the magnitude of need is such that
targeting virtually becomes impossible. SCF(UK) for example has
already revised its strategy in two districts of Zimbabwe to provide
blanket feed programmes.
6. Lessons learnt from the crisis in Southern
Africa and about food aid generally:
The crisis is not just a food crisis
and cannot be solved with food aid alone. HIV/AIDS is now recognized
as biggest impediment to the food security in the region and assistance
must be targeted accordingly.
Political considerations are crucial
and have contributed to the crisis as much as, if not more than
natural, climatic causes.
Progress since the last major famine
in the region (1992/93) to address the structural deficiencies
in the agricultural sector has been minimal. There remains an
over-dependence on maize production. The shift in Zimbabwe from
commercial production to small holder, subsistence agriculture
is clearly a major step backwards.
While Governments have failed themselves
to tackle fundamental weaknesses of governance practice, fiscal
and economic management, international assistance over the past
10 years has equally failed to work strategically in the region
to tackle issues at the root of the widespread poverty
Nationally and regionally owned crisis
prevention management and mitigation structures remain weak despite
efforts to improve them. Sound contingency plans and structures
should be put in place without delay.
While information collection and
collation in the region is relatively well-developed, effective
mechanisms for consolidation of critical information sources both
at country and regional level remains weak. This has served as
a major impediment in helping to quantify needs and response across