A favourable 2020-2021 rainy season and above-average regional cereal supply across most of Southern Africa caused the number of severely food insecure people to decrease from 25.1 million in May 2021 to around 20.4 million in August. In the first half of 2021, food security improved in many rural areas following significant harvests, particularly in Malawi and Zimbabwe. However, the economic situation in multiple countries, compounded by COVID-19, continued to impact communities across the region. In Zimbabwe, for example, the average price of basic food items increased by 30 per cent in the first half of 2021 compared to the second half of 2020, according to WFP. Although winter temperatures suppressed breeding, varying intensities of African Migratory Locust and other locust species remained present in multiple countries in the region.
However, parts of the region endured their worst droughts in four decades, causing humanitarian needs to spike alarmingly. In the Grand Sud of Madagascar, a devastating combination of drought, pest infestations and sandstorms caused up to 60 per cent of crops losses and left more than 1.14 million people severely food insecure (IPC 3 and above), including 14,000 people facing famine-like conditions (IPC 5). More than 40,100 children were admitted for treatment of severe acute malnutrition—a life-threatening condition—from January to June 2021. In southern Angola, over 1.3 million people—nearly 50 per cent of the population analyzed in the 17 southmost municipalities—were in in Crisis (IPC 3) or Emergency (IPC 4) in August, according to the latest Integrated Phase Classification (IPC) analysis. Admissions for severe acute malnutrition were higher than the previous four years.
At the same time, conflict, violence and unrest compounded humanitarian needs and protection concerns in multiple countries. In Mozambique, the armed conflict in Cabo Delgado continued to drive displacement—albeit at a slower pace than the first months of the year—and hampered people’s ability to access essential services, livelihoods and sustenance. In Eswatini, a wave of pro-democracy protests which began at the end of May erupted into violence, with reports that dozens of people—including children—were killed or injured and allegations of disproportionate and unnecessary use of force, harassment and intimidation by security forces, including the use of live ammunition by police, according to OHCHR.
The unrest deepened the country’s difficult economic situation, marked by high commodity prices that restricted food access for families struggling with a poor harvest and loss of income caused by COVID-19. In South Africa, the civil unrest that started in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces in early July—and left hundreds of people dead—disrupted food supply chains, including in the region, resulting in localized food-deficits and price hikes in some locations.
Meanwhile, a third wave of COVID-19 increased pressure on the health system in several countries in July and August. Health-care facilities in Botswana and Zambia reportedly lacked adequate oxygen, while some hospitals in Namibia and Zimbabwe reached their maximum capacities in July. The shortage of vaccines prolonged the wave of transmissions as, according to WHO, with only Seychelles and South Africa able to achieve the global goal of vaccinating the most vulnerable 10 per cent of every country’s population by the end of September.