Following an assessment of needs in three of the most drought-affected countries in southern Africa, the Federation today launched an appeal for 6.8 million Swiss francs to provide support to 450,000 people in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe over the next twelve months.
"We expect that the situation will get worse in the coming months," says Dr. Guy Zimmermann, a Federation nutrition expert who was part of the assessment mission carried out between 6-30 April. "The nutritional status is already very bad for many people, particularly young children orphaned because of HIV/AIDS and the high numbers of adults who are infected with the virus."
Red Cross intervention will mainly target HIV/AIDS affected families and orphans, providing bulk food distribution and supplementary feeding at communal kitchens which will be established by Red Cross volunteers in the three countries. The high incidence of HIV/AIDS in the region has been a major contributor to increased poverty. There has been a decline in the amount of land that is cultivated due to a reduction in the labour force and there is evidence of poor crop management and a decline in productivity amongst households who have been affected by HIV/AIDS.
The Red Cross response will address immediate needs where necessary, but the main thrust of the programme will be on building local capacity so that communities are better able to look after themselves in future times of crisis. Focus will be on better food utilization, advocating changes in consumption habits and better nutrition to encourage a more varied diet and less reliance on the maize crop which has been devastated by two years of erratic rain fall and difficult economic conditions.
Maize stocks, the local staple, are already greatly depleted or non-existent. Rampant inflation is also contributing to the food shortage as food prices have increased dramatically over recent months. In Zimbabwe, the price of one kilogram of maize grain has gone up by 500 per cent since September 2001.
Specific health initiatives will be undertaken to tackle diseases which prove deadly companions to malnutrition including malaria and diarrhoea. Water and sanitation programmes are a traditional strength of the Red Cross across the region and these will be expanded.
Red Cross action will involve the distribution of seeds and some 7,000 metric tons of food and other relief items, and will build on operations currently underway. Already this year, the Red Cross has assisted in the distribution of 1,600 metric tons of food in Zambia and plans are in place for the distribution of 4,800 metric tons in Malawi. According to the UN World Food Programme, 2.6 million people are already suffering from food shortages and millions more could join them in the months ahead.
In Zimbabwe, the operation will focus on two districts, Zaka in Masvingo Province and Gwanda in Matabeleland. In Zambia, the programme will target affected populations in Livingstone, Choma and Siavonga districts in Southern Province. In Malawi, the focus will be on Chikwawa, Nkhotakota and Mchinji districts.