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Food insecurity remains widespread across southern Africa following two years of consecutive drought. The 2015/16 El Niño weather event, which meant reduced rains for most of the region, resulted in poor or failed harvests in most countries in 2016. Some 16 million people in the countries worst-hit by drought (Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe) were estimated to need emergency humanitarian assistance in late 2016/early 2017, according to assessment data from the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Concerted humanitarian assistance, however, has helped stabilize the situation, reducing it from ‘crisis’ category (Integrated Food Security Phase Classification Level 3) to ‘stressed’ (IPC Level 2) in several countries. Assessments due to be conducted in April should give an accurate picture of the situation. The number of people judged to be food insecure is expected to be lower than during the height of the October-April lean season in the seven countries where the World Food Programme last year declared its highest level of corporate emergency.

Rainfall in recent months has been average to above-average across most of the region, with the exception of Tanzania, northern Mozambique and most of Madagascar. Prospects for good agricultural production are generally encouraging with preliminary crop estimates being mostly positive ahead of the annual harvest in May.

While prices of maize and other crops remain high for the time of year, they have begun to decrease. This development is considered an indication that the lean season is abating with a gradual improvement in food availability from early or ‘green’ harvest production.

Pockets of food insecurity, however, are likely to persist due to a number of factors, including prevalence of the fall army worm pest in several countries and cyclonic activity along the eastern seaboard.

16 million people
in WFP's seven priority countries will need emergency humanitarian assistance in the coming months
US$ 88 million
WFP’s shortfall in the priority countries until April 2017

What the World Food Programme is doing to respond to the Southern Africa emergency

  • Lesotho

    A third of the population are food insecure. WFP is providing both food and cash-based relief in the most food-insecure areas and is scaling up to reach some 600,000 people through all assistance programmes in early 2017. Under a partnership with FAO, WFP-assisted people are provided with agricultural inputs so they can start farming during the rainy season. WFP is focusing on resilience building through watershed management projects to help communities withstand climatic shocks and through capacity building to strengthen the government’s early warning response system.

  • Madagascar

    More than 90 percent of the population lives on less than $2/day, and the situation in the semi-arid south is pushing hundreds of thousands close to the edge of disaster. WFP has been reaching some 850,000 people with food assistance, cash transfers and nutritional support and is scaling up to reach a million drought-affected people in coming months. However, due to funding shortages, WFP has been obliged to institute rations cuts for those receiving emergency relief and requires additional resources to continue providing assistance to those most in need.

  • Malawi

    40 percent of the population are food insecure. WFP has been scaling up its operations to reach some 6 million food insecure people. WFP's relief assistance is being linked increasingly with the creation of productive assets such as community vegetable gardens and irrigation systems. A shortage of funding for WFP's non-maize commodities and cash-based transfers is of concern. WFP is pre-positioning food stocks in parts of the south, which are prone to flooding during the rainy season. WFP also requires additional funding to provide assistance to some 32,000 refugees in camps at Dzaleka and in Luwani.

  • Mozambique

    Some 2.3 million people are food insecure and need emergency food assistance. Poor harvests, combined with currency devaluations, resulted in huge increases in the price of maize during 2016. WFP is currently scaling up its relief operations to reach 700,000 food-insecure people by early 2017. WFP is providing assistance of various kinds - food for people building and restoring community assets, emergency school feeding and treatment of moderate acute malnutrition amongst children, and pregnant and nursing women. WFP is meanwhile preparing to respond to floods which can hit during the January/February cyclone season.

  • Swaziland

    638,000 people – nearly half the population – will face some food insecurity while 350,000 people will need urgent food assistance by the peak of the lean season. Water sources declined by more than 50 percent during 2016 and there was widespread crop failure due to lack of rain. WFP is scaling up its food and cash-based relief operations aiming to reach some 315,000 vulnerable people by 2017 through both development and emergency operations. The health and nutrition status of people living with HIV is of particular concern in a country where the prevalence of HIV/AIDS is 26 percent among the adult population.

  • Zambia

    While there are nearly 1 million people in Zambia in need of food relief, the Government of Zambia has not asked WFP for emergency support. Under a Home Grown School Meals programme run jointly with the government, nearly 78,000 children are receiving school meals. Through an innovative project (known as R4) WFP is enhancing resilience of smallholder farmers against climate shocks. WFP has deployed latest digital technology to support the tracking of prices, market access, food quality and supply chain efficiency. In total, WFP aims to reach some 867,000 people across the country.

  • Zimbabwe

    More than 4 million people – 44 percent of the rural population – are in need of emergency food assistance. Malnutrition has reached or exceeded emergency levels. Programmes involving the creation of assets, such as water harvesting and irrigation systems, are designed to help people build resilience to future shocks and become better able to cope with extreme weather events such as drought. WFP is also implementing emergency school feeding and nutritional support in health clinics for the treatment and prevention of moderate acute malnutrition among pregnant and nursing women, children under the age of 5 and people with HIV.

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