In the last quarter of 2019 Southern African Regional Interagency Standing Committee Africa (RIASCO) reported that more than 11 million people were experiencing crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity (IPC Phases 3 and 4) in nine Southern African countries1 due to deepening drought and climate related crisis. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) urged for urgent humanitarian action, and at the beginning of November 2019 Angola, Botswana, Lesotho and Namibia had declared states of drought emergencies, requiring international assistance to address the worsening food insecurity situation. FAO, UNICEF and WFP published a Joint Call for Action to “Address the Impacts of Climate Change and a Deepening Humanitarian Crisis in Southern Africa” likewise in November 2019.
In the rainfall season October 2018 - January 2019 significantly below average rainfall was measured over southern Africa. By 1 February 2019, FEWS NET declared an alert, trigged by the delayed start of the season and the significant rainfall deficit negatively impacting cropping conditions. This trend continued at the onset of the rainy season in October / November 2019 with below average rainfalls observed over especially western parts of Southern Africa and forecasts indicated that several countries were going to be seriously affected by the continuation of dry conditions during the 2019-2020 production season.
IFRC had already ongoing food security related emergency operations in Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe, so this multi–country Emergency Appeal was designed to cover Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho and Namibia. Since February 2020, Africa Migratory locust (AML) outbreaks damaged crops and livestock grazing compounding the effect of the drought on the food security of approximately 2.3 million people in areas of Angola, Botswana, Zambia, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. Beside the AML, also other species became active such as the Brown locust in South Africa, spreading to Botswana and Namibia in 2021 and the Desert locust in Northern Tanzania and others causing considerable damage to crop in localized areas in Zimbabwe. Despite intervention and response activities, the outbreaks persisted throughout 2020 into 2021 and projected to last until post-harvest period due to favourable breeding environment.
In addition to the climatic, weather and pest conditions, since March 2020 the region was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, exacerbating the already acute food insecurity situation in Southern Africa. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) synthesis report from the end of July 2020 indicated that 44.8 million people in urban and rural areas across the 13 Members States of Southern Africa were food insecure2. This number of people lacking reliable access to enough nutritious food had increased by almost 10% in 2020, compared with the data provided at the same time in 2019. For the 10 countries covered by the IFRC Southern Africa Cluster the number of food insecure people was close to 18,4 million people according to the report, and for the four countries covered by this Emergency Appeal the number in the synthesis report is 1 191 999 people, combining urban and rural areas.
COVID-19 containment measures exacerbated the food insecurity situation by causing loss of livelihoods and employment opportunities as a result of lockdowns and other movement restrictions, and by consequence also the loss of remittance incomes, as well as the closure of school meal programmes. Besides specifically school children, the restrictive measures particularly affected the urban poor, who rely heavily on livelihoods from the informal sector and local markets, which were forced to close temporarily as a result of lockdown measures. The agricultural sector and rural population were however also similarly impacted – lockdowns and restrictions prevented rural workers from attending to their jobs, leading to loss of employment opportunities on one hand, and the loss of essential work force in the fields on the other, risking late or failed harvesting and selling of produce.
These factors have further increased the risk of malnutrition in the region, as food diversity has been constrained, inaccessible and unaffordable to the most vulnerable households, pushing them to adopt negative eating practices to adapt, including reducing frequency, quantity and quality of foods.