As 2020 came to a close, countries in Southern Africa faced multiple shocks, including the COVID-19 pandemic, crop-threatening pests, drought in multiple locations and conflict in northern Mozambique. On 27 December 2020, South Africa became the first country on the African continent to confirm more than 1 million cases of COVID-19. Restrictions implemented to contain the pandemic across the region in 2020 impacted supply chains, resulting in food-deficits and price hikes in some locations. The pandemic challenged already fragile health systems and disrupted health services, including immunization, sexual and reproductive healthcare and access to critical testing and treatment of chronic diseases, such as tuberculosis and HIV.
Migrants in the region—which relies heavily on remittances—faced unique challenges, with over 63,000 migrants reportedly returning to their countries of origin from March to June 2020, and Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe reporting the highest numbers of returns. Multiple Southern African countries saw significant spikes in gender-based violence, particularly during lockdowns. By the end of the year, severe food insecurity was affecting 13.6 million people across 11 countries, and this will rise during the lean season (January to March 2021). In the Grand Sud of Madagascar, over 900,000 people faced severe food insecurity from October to December due to back-to-back droughts, compounded by COVID-19 and displacements due to the growing insecurity related to cattle raiding. Hunger will increase and affect 1.14 million from January to April 2021. In Mozambique, conflict in Cabo Delgado Province—which had displaced more than 500,000 people by end-October—and drought in the semi-arid southern and central areas of the country drove Crisis (IPC Phase 3) levels of food insecurity. In Zimbabwe, 2.6 million people were severely food insecure from October to December 2020 due to the prevailing economic situation and erratic rainfall, and 3.4 million people are projected to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or Emergency (IPC Phase 4) from January to March 2021. Without the humanitarian assistance delivered in Zimbabwe in 2020, these figures would be much higher, according to the IPC analysis.
Meanwhile, pests threatened crops across large swathes of the region, including the African Migratory Locust outbreak in Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, a brown locust outbreak in South Africa (including the country’s bread basket region), and the first-ever sighting of the Senegalese grasshopper in Zimbabwe.