Red Cross: Without immediate support, the worst is yet to come for food insecure families across southern Africa

By International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Socie
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With another season of inadequate rainfall, missed plantings, and failed harvests, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is warning that the number of families dependent on food aid across southern Africa will most certainly increase in the coming months.

An estimated 28 million people are currently food insecure across the region. That figure is expected to increase to 49 million before the end of the year.

“These figures are quite conservative,” said Michael Charles, acting regional representative for IFRC, southern Africa. “Farmers have missed three seasons now, due to insufficient rains. Missed harvests mean there is no new food on the table, nor income in their pockets. To avoid a crisis of even larger proportions, we need to ramp up our interventions to ensure those most vulnerable get the support they need, now.”

The Government of Malawi declared a state of emergency due to the severe drought earlier this week, bringing to four, the number of countries with declared drought emergencies across the region. Mozambique also declared a 'red alert' period of 90 days to mobilize partners in response to the drought affecting its central and southern provinces.

The Red Cross Red Crescent Movement has launched Emergency Appeals totalling 3.2 million Swiss francs in Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. The Appeals are, on average, 64 per cent funded. Emergency operations will soon be launched in Mozambique, and operations in Zimbabwe are being scaled-up to reflect the increasing needs. Activities are focused on providing immediate life-saving interventions, largely through cash transfers.

“At the moment, the market system continues to function,” explained Charles. “But prices of basic commodities are skyrocketing, making them unaffordable for the average family. This results in families selling off their valuable assets — their cattle, often at greatly reduced prices.”

Since May 2015, the southern Africa region has been experiencing an intense drought that has expanded and strengthened, driven by one of the strongest El Niño episodes on record. The most recent rainfall season has been the driest in more than three decades. It is a weather phenomenon which is not only affecting crops but also livestock, which are dying off in large numbers. With a potential La Nina weather event also on the horizon, the current food security crisis is one which will likely continue well into next year.

“It is vitally important for us to remember that there are people behind these statistics,” added Charles. “Malnutrition in children is already high, and stunting rates are above 20 per cent. More than 12 million people are living with HIV across southern Africa and are in need of nutritional food so they can take their medication without getting sick.

“The Red Cross is ready, with our network of trained volunteers, to support vulnerable families, but we cannot do it without adequate financial assistance. We call on our established partners, and welcome new partners, to support our activities, and help ensure that life-saving interventions make it to those men, women and children who need it most.”