After nearly five years as the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Humanitarian Needs in Southern Africa, James Morris, who is also the Executive Director of WFP will undertake his final mission to the region from December 7-15.
When James Morris was appointed in 2002, poverty and deprivation were rife in southern Africa.
Back then, 14 million people across six countries needed humanitarian assistance, including massive amounts of food aid following one of the worst droughts in living memory.
At the time it became clear that the degree of poverty and deprivation found in the region had underlying causes that went beyond crop failure and required further examination.
In 2003, the Special Envoy led a mission of UN experts to the affected countries to examine the deeper causes of the crisis, resulting in the coining of the phrase ‘Triple Threat’ – a combination of food insecurity, HIV/AIDS, and a weakened capacity for governance.
The need for agricultural reform and diversification together with lack of investment, crumbling social services, and poor government policies had started to take a catastrophic toll on poverty-stricken populations that were also battling the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates in the world.
Over the edge
The drought pushed many communities over the edge and if it were not for the colossal humanitarian response and generosity of donor governments around the world, many lives would have been lost.
Over the last five years, the United Nations and the humanitarian sector at large has led one of the most coordinated aid responses ever to a multi-faceted crisis.
This required a paradigm shift in the way humanitarian agencies did business and a streamlining of the way the sector worked with governments and local NGOs.
The region's food situation has steadily improved since 2004 but remains on a razor’s edge, vulnerable to sudden shocks like poor rainfall, cyclones, floods and other natural disasters.
Many millions of people still do not have access to enough food or good nutrition, clean water, sanitation, education and healthcare.
They are also facing increasing environmental degradation from climate change, deforestation and desertification.
HIV/AIDS permeates every aspect of life in the region and has required an unprecedented response from government and the international community.
Gains have been made but the rising tide of orphans and vulnerable children means the scars of HIV/AIDS will be with the people of this region for generations to come.
Unfortunately some early warning agencies are predicting preliminary signs of a possible poor harvest in 2007 due to erratic rainfall.
Aid agencies, governments, donors and the people of southern Africa may be put to the test again in the New Year but rainfall over the next few months will be a critical determinant.
Now on his seventh trip to the region, the Mr Morris will urge governments and donors to take the long-term approach and tackle deep-seated development problems, particularly when it comes to putting in place measures to assist children.
During his mission, the Special Envoy will visit Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique as well as hold meetings with the humanitarian partners in South Africa.
The agricultural year in Zambia has commenced slowly with a delayed onset of rains in the southern half of the country while other areas have experienced localised flooding.
This means the growing season will be shorter than usual in some areas and those who have planted early-maturing crops may fare better.
Resilience to shocks in southern Africa remains low in most households and the lack of formal and informal social safety nets means food shortages could rapidly become an acute problem.
Rainfall over the next few months will be critical. WFP is assisting about 2 million Zambians with food aid through various programmes cross the country.
Chronic malnutrition and HIV/AIDS prevalence remain high throughout Zambia with an average 28 percent of children under five malnourished and 15.6 percent of the population infected with the virus.
An estimated 18 percent of women and 13 percent of men carry HIV.
Girls aged 15-19 years of age are four times more likely to be infected than boys their own age.
The number of people dying of AIDS is estimated at 89,000 per year, yet a mere one out of ten people actually know their status.
Orphan numbers continue to climb and are currently estimated at 801,000. Life expectancy at birth has fallen to less than 40.
The Zambian Government and the Global AIDS community have recognised the need to do more to effectively tackle the virus and measures have been put in place to help achieve this.
Zambia is also the generous host to 65,000 refugees, mostly Congolese, in four camps western, northwestern, northern and Luapula Provinces.
Despite these situations, Zambia has managed to maintain a good level of macro-economic stability in the last four years which offers good potential for future development prospects.
Maize production this year in Malawi totalled 2.6 million tons, which was a historic record and a 100 percent improvement to the 1.3 million tons produced in 2005.
The good harvest was attributed to favourable weather conditions and the subsidised agricultural inputs scheme.
However, the good news of a bumper harvest does not apply to everyone in the country.
Some regions suffered dry spells and devastating floods which destroyed crops and as a result, some households harvested virtually nothing.
It is estimated that 833,000 people will have little or no food at some point between now and May next year. In addition, 147,800 people may need assistance if the household economy deteriorates further.
The Government of Malawi recently donated 10,000 tons of maize to WFP to help the agency offset pipeline breaks during December 2006 and part of January 2007.
WFP expects to feed a maximum 109,871 households by February-March 2007 with the relief food aid.
The country continues to make improvements with access to HIV/AIDS treatment for adults, from 8,000 early 2004 to more than 46,000 on antiretrovirals in 2006.
Recently, Malawi finalised a road map on Universal Access to treatment, prevention, care and support and revised its national targets accordingly.
Among the critical challenges identified by the road map are: heightened vulnerability to HIV infection due to the combined effects of poverty, gender inequality and harmful socio-cultural beliefs and practices, natural disasters, weak public systems and inadequate infrastructure service, and limited absorption capacity particularly in the public sector.
Zimbabwe is characterised by a combination of acute humanitarian needs and protracted chronic vulnerabilities.
The most acute humanitarian challenges include food insecurity, risks of cholera outbreaks and vulnerability of mobile populations.
The more chronic vulnerabilities include inadequate and declining access to basic social services, insufficient agricultural inputs and disrupted livelihoods.
Further impacting the overall situation is economic decline, fuel shortages, low supplies and high costs of agricultural inputs, and shortages of affordable basic commodities.
The HIV/AIDS pandemic continues to directly affect 18-20 percent of the population, or about 1.8 million people, and there is an average of 3,000 deaths per week.
However, Zimbabwe is one of the few countries in southern Africa to have experienced a decline in its prevalence rate over the last few years. There are an estimated 1.4 million orphans due to HIV/AIDS.
Some 29 percent of children are chronically malnourished and access to basic nutrition remains elusive for many households.
WFP is aiming to feed an average of 1.9 million people during the ‘lean season’ through to March next year.
The 2007 UN Consolidated Appeal Process for Zimbabwe has a dual focus on humanitarian relief and transitional support.
The scope of these activities includes:
The United Nations in Mozambique has embraced a ‘fast-track’ UN reform process and as a result has fully aligned its programming framework (UNDAF 2007-2009) with national government plans and related efforts and a number of key initiatives.
The UN family in Mozambique is committed to supporting the disaster mitigation, vulnerability reduction and humanitarian response efforts of the Government.
It does this, in part, through collaborative support of the SETSAN (National Secretariat on Food Security and Nutrition) and the INGC (National Institute of Disaster Management).
An example of effective collaboration between the UN Country Team and the INGC is a cyclone/flood simulation exercise held in two districts in October 2006.
UNICEF and WFP provided technical assistance and support to INGC during the planning, implementation and debriefing stages of the exercise, resulting in a more common vision of the best practices and challenges associated with joint emergency response.
WFP in Mozambique faces a budget deficit of US$9.1 million, which is urgently needed to provide food assistance to roughly 461,000 of the most vulnerable people in the country throughout the lean season, including orphans and vulnerable children and people living with HIV/AIDS.
Food stocks running out
In-country food stocks have started running out November (cereals) and December (corn soy blend).
The current confirmed contributions will not cover the needs, despite ration reductions that are meant to extend stocks.
At the same time, WFP does not have food stocks available for pre-positioning in hard-to-access areas that will be cut off by localised flooding during the current rainy season.