Southern Africa operation on target, but challenges lie ahead

Publicado: 25 junio 2003 0:00 CET

John Sparrow in Johannesburg

More than a million people affected by hunger and HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa will have been helped by the region’s national Red Cross societies when a one-year relief operation makes way for longer-term action in July.

By the end of April, through the International Federation’s Southern Africa Food Security Operation, they had already delivered over 36,000 tonnes of food to 723,000 people in Lesotho, Malawi, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Some 116,000 stricken farming families had been helped with seeds, tools and fertilizers, and 122,000 people with hygienic and medical supplies. More than 75,000 people will benefit from the ongoing improvement of water sources and sanitation across the region.

The operation, which was backed by the Federation’s largest appeal since the Balkans crisis, is meeting most of its objectives. The 2002 appeal sought 89.3 million Swiss francs (US$ 61.6 million) to help 1.3 million people threatened by looming famine.

As figures for the first ten months were analysed, Head of Operation Nils Gussing commented, “Some plans have had to be revised to meet an evolving situation but things are on target in all five countries. The National Societies have been thoroughly stretched, and sometimes too far, because of the huge logistical challenges. But they are pulling through. They deserve great credit.”

A sampling of statistics provides perspective. By the end of April in Lesotho some 3,726 tonnes of maize, beans and vegetable oil had been distributed to almost 54,000 people. Malawi had seen the distribution of more than 12,450 tonnes of maize, pulses, corn/soya blend and oil, reaching close to 224,000 people. And since March, 16,000 orphans and people living with HIV/AIDS have been receiving supplementary food rations to improve their nutritional situation.

Some 4,300 tonnes of food had been distributed in Swaziland by end April, reaching 113,000 people through general distributions. Red Cross clinics and home-based care programmes also provided enriched food to almost 3,400 undernourished children, and food baskets and hygiene items to 1,500 people living with HIV/AIDS. Basic drugs were distributed to 20,000 HIV/AIDS clients.

Almost 2,750 tonnes of food had been spread over six districts by general distributions in Zambia by the end of April, to more than 83,000 people. Targeted distributions are assisting another 111,000, those infected or affected by HIV/AIDS, and malnourished children under five. By the end of April, that had amounted to close to 6,800 tonnes, providing a daily supplementary food ration, a vital component for HIV-infected people in home-based care programmes.

In Zimbabwe, nutritious food supplements had reached almost 119,000 people infected and affected by the disease. Close to 5,700 tonnes of maize, corn/soya blend, beans, oil and sugar had been distributed since the start of activity.

Safe water and sanitation to help maximize the impact of food provision is part of the Southern Africa Food Security Operation. Hand pumps are being rehabilitated across the region, communities trained in maintenance and management, and hygiene education provided. Some 250 new water points and 150 irrigation dams are being provided in the Choma district of southern Zambia alone, and 17,000 people will benefit from projects underway in Zimbabwe. Latrines are being constructed at schools and health centres, and for particularly vulnerable households.

Alongside its own relief activity, the Federation has run one of the largest Red Cross truck fleets ever assembled, to assist the World Food Programme (WFP). The Southern Africa Operation’s Transport Support Package (TSP) faced initial logistical problems but already the trucks have delivered WFP food to distribution points serving hundreds of thousands of people in remote areas.

The 209-strong fleet of powerful all-terrain vehicles, provided by the Norwegian government through the Norwegian Red Cross, is penetrating bush that conventional transport cannot. Bumping over rocky tracks, through sandy wastes and rivers sometimes in full flood, they had managed to deliver another 40,700 tonnes of food in Lesotho, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe by late April.

The operational partnership with WFP has shown the importance of humanitarian agencies developing new strategies to collaborate and coordinate given the massive needs of southern Africa. The TSP operation allows the Red Cross, WFP, and WFP implementing partners handling final distribution, to maximize use of available resources.

Twenty-four TSP trucks are located in Lesotho, 58 in Malawi, and 116 in Zambia. In Malawi and Zambia they are currently supported by two fuel tankers and eight long-haul trucks normally based in Zimbabwe.

The Food Security Operation is to be transformed from a short-term relief operation into medium and long-term programmes. An emergency appeal for more than US$10 million was launched at the end of May to support the move and its activities will be incorporated into the Federation’s wider regional programmes.

Prompt international intervention averted the threatened starvation of more than 14 million people. But hunger was not the crisis, only a symptom of a new and pernicious process consuming southern Africa: the interaction of HIV/AIDS with food insecurity, poverty, common disease and mismanagement now bringing the region to its knees.

Projections put the prevalence of HIV at well over 50 per cent in some areas where they foresee life expectancy dropping below 20 years by 2020. The workforce could be reduced by half even sooner.

The new harvest has brought little hope of reducing food insecurity for the most vulnerable people, and deteriorating health care, an accelerated spread of common disease, the appalling condition of water and sanitation, food shortage in urban areas and ineffective agriculture compound the problems.

The combined effect brings ever higher numbers of premature deaths, especially among families living with HIV/AIDS. In 2001, an estimated 497,000 new deaths from AIDS occurred in the five food crisis countries. The estimation for 2002 is likely to be higher. By 2010 between 20 and 33 per cent of children below the age of 15 will have lost one of both of their parents.

The threat of famine may have retreated for now but the crisis is only developing.

Related links:

Southern Africa operation: updates and news stories
Southern Africa: latest appeal
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