Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by OCHA (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs)

  1.  Factors contributing to the food crisis:

    —  Role of Governance

    —  Agricultural practice

    —  Steps taken to mitigate

  Effective governance or lack thereof has been a major factor in precipitating the current food crisis. The most obvious example is of course in Zimbabwe where political expediency has precluded any rational approach to ensuring the food security of the country. The fast track land reform process has effectively killed off the ability of the commercial farming sector to provide for the country as well as Zimbabwe's neighbours. In Malawi and Zambia, poor Government choices have also exacerbated the crisis although the relative impact on the region has not been so significant as the structural changes to land tenure and economic generation taking place in Zimbabwe.

  Following the drought in 92-93, many advocated for greater diversification of agricultural production especially at the level of the small holder, in order to escape the over dependence on maize. The evidence would suggest that this has been less than successful and still millions of people through the southern African region depend on growing maize as the principle means of food security. This continuing over reliance on the one staple impacts on diet / nutrition as well as the capacity for coping with the "lean" years.

  The region has taken significant steps forward to predict food shortages. The current crisis has not yet fully taken hold and the fact that there are considerable efforts underway to address the needs is in itself evidence that these measures are in place and are working. The work of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC)/Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources (FANR) as well as those of Famine Early Warning System (FEWS) are of note in this regard and have served to bolster ailing national capacity in some cases (Malawi, Zambia particularly). Zimbabwe here is again the exception. The Government of Zimbabwe announced a Z$ 8 billion input scheme for the new settlers but this is by far not enough. Over Z$ 70 billion will be needed. As a result little to no preparations for the next agricultural season have been undertaken. This area is also under funded by donors.

  2.  Ongoing Humanitarian Needs:

    —  how adequately are they being addressed?

    —  can humanitarian aid be used to mitigate against famine?

    —  are the needs adequately resourced?

  The United Nations (UN) appealed for US$ 611 million in July of this year of which US$ 507 million was for food aid. While the response to these food aid needs is now beginning to occur, the response has been slow. This has meant that the desired strategy of pre-positioning food in food insecure areas ahead of the rainy season has not been possible. As a consequence, it may be that some inaccessible areas will not receive food despite the fact that it is available. This strategy was in itself a key measure to mitigate against famine. Provided that the food pipeline as requested by the World Food Programme (WFP) remains positive, famine in the region can be averted. There remains an ongoing concern however in Zimbabwe where the food gap remains considerable in view of the restrictions on the private sector to import. Should this situation continue, the food crisis in Zimbabwe is expected to deepen markedly in early 2003 and despite a healthy food aid pipeline, the amount will not be sufficient to meet all the needs.

  While the emphasis of need in the region has been for food, the crisis is of much wider dimensions and is a reflection of the paucity of adequate social service provision. Health services and capacities are diminishing throughout the region although the effects appear to be particularly devastating in Zimbabwe and Malawi where capacities to provide for the increasing number of sick and malnourished are severe. The impact of HIV/AIDS is fast eroding what limited human capacities exist and further compounding the need. In this respect the needs in the non-food sectors, although not presented as needing the same amount of resources, are of equal importance to food. The response has however not been equivalent and cannot be described as "adequately addressed".

  3.  Adequacy of the International Response:

    —  could it be improved?

    —  is crisis management in the international system adequate?

    —  what support is needed to ensure future food security?

  There are a number of levels at which this needs to be considered. Firstly, food insecurity in the region and its causes have become well understood. This has allowed for the flags to be raised sufficiently early enough to put the needs of the region on the agenda. In this respect the international response in terms of identification of the food security problem has been adequate. However from another perspective (as indicated above), the response to these identified needs has not been as quick nor in the magnitude required. For this reason, there are gaps and there will be problems in ensuring that the needs of all of those identified as requiring assistance receive it. A third perspective is that the response demanded so far has focused principally on food and that that in itself is inadequate. While non-food needs have been identified, there is a growing sense that the impact of HIV/AIDS both as a cause and an effect of the current food crisis has been underestimated in terms of response required. As a consequence, the international response could be significantly improved with a greater awareness of the impact of HIV/AIDS on the food crisis and vice versa with a corresponding increase in activities geared to address the needs of those affected by the pandemic.

  The crisis has thrown up a number of challenges to the international crisis management system. On the one hand, since responsibility for managing the crisis rests with the national Government and that the majority of international actors engage on a country by country basis, situating and responding to the problem from a regional perspective has proved particularly challenging. With the exception of WFP, the UN and donor governments have been slow to establish mechanisms that could think and act on a regional basis. This could easily be improved if the principle regional institution (SADC) were more centrally engaged in managing the crisis both politically, economically as well as operationally. Currently, SADC engagement with the crisis is operational through its technical body the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Division, which while effective, represents only a segment of the sorts of issues it should be involved with if it were to be taken seriously as a Regional entity. With increased capacity and responsibility, SADC could facilitate and lead a more dynamic international response for the region particularly if it were able to take more of a political and economic lead for its member states. This in turn could enhance the prospects for improved food security for the region. On the other hand, the national responsibility for managing the crisis can prove to be difficult if the national Government has a fundamentally different understanding of the crisis and the needed response than other partners.

  4.  Balancing food aid and longer term measures:

    —  what is and should be the role of WFP, FAO and other UN organizations?

    —  what part should food aid play in development cooperation programmes?

    —  how can the impact of food aid on local markets be managed?

  In the short term it is imperative that WFP be given the requisite resources to deliver. As part of the process of looking to the future WFP/UNICEF should be supported to provide school feeding programmes. Food for work and food for asset creation schemes should also be encouraged as far as relevant and appropriate. It is essential however that food aid be:

    (a)  limited to support the most vulnerable;

    (b)  supported by initiatives that help affected communities regain their own productive capacities; and

    (c)  do not overlap or compete with other efforts.

  For this reason, FAO should be more visible and more operationally active in the six affected countries. In sum, the role of food in development cooperation programmes should be kept to minimum and should only be used as a means to kick start more self sustainable activities. If this approach can be followed the impact on local markets can be contained. Considerable attention has been and is being paid to this issue. Local businessmen responded to this question during the UN Special Envoy mission in Lesotho recently and argued that the short-term effects of food aid on markets are minimal relative to the long-term benefits of maintaining a customer base. The need to keep people alive and getting them back into the productive economy is widely understood as the priority.

  5.  Operational Constraints:

    —  How does local politics influence priorities and targeting?

  Apart from availability of funds, the single biggest constraint faced by the humanitarian assistance community at the outset of the operation was the logistics capacity in the region. Limited port handling capacity, deteriorating rail and road infrastructure and lengthy customs clearance procedures were identified as serious impediments. Much progress has been made in this regard to the point where it is believed that there is now sufficient capacity in the region for effective deliveries to be made. Provision has been made to cope with the effects of the rainy season and the difficulties this will pose in accessing rural areas.

  Local politics has not had a significant influence in prioritizing and targeting assistance in the region with the obvious exception of Zimbabwe. Politicisation of food aid in Zimbabwe remains one of the main obstacles for mobilizing funds for food and other types of emergency assistance. Politicisation of food distribution is a major impediment to effective targeting in Zimbabwe. Distribution problems have been highlighted viz. the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) depots; the Government's food for work programme; as well as food distribution by international donors, executed by NGOs. There have been reports of specific examples of opposition members being denied food assistance or access to the GMB sold maize, as well as cases of children from known Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) supporters being denied supplementary feeding at school. In some cases, MDC supporters in rural areas have been denied access to safe drinking water.

  Targeting has also proved to be problematic in Zimbabwe in view of political considerations. This has been most clearly evident with respect to the needs of farm workers affected by land redistribution. A careful estimate of the number of farm workers so far affected (either displaced or remaining jobless on farms) by the ongoing land redistribution exercise is now revised to around 175,000 families or around 950,000 people. The Government has so far been extremely reticent about the assistance community addressing the needs of this group.

  A third problem with targeting experienced notably in Zimbabwe and Malawi is that the magnitude of need is such that targeting virtually becomes impossible. SCF(UK) for example has already revised its strategy in two districts of Zimbabwe to provide blanket feed programmes.

  6.  Lessons learnt from the crisis in Southern Africa and about food aid generally:

    —  The crisis is not just a food crisis and cannot be solved with food aid alone. HIV/AIDS is now recognized as biggest impediment to the food security in the region and assistance must be targeted accordingly.

    —  Political considerations are crucial and have contributed to the crisis as much as, if not more than natural, climatic causes.

    —  Progress since the last major famine in the region (1992/93) to address the structural deficiencies in the agricultural sector has been minimal. There remains an over-dependence on maize production. The shift in Zimbabwe from commercial production to small holder, subsistence agriculture is clearly a major step backwards.

    —  While Governments have failed themselves to tackle fundamental weaknesses of governance practice, fiscal and economic management, international assistance over the past 10 years has equally failed to work strategically in the region to tackle issues at the root of the widespread poverty

    —  Nationally and regionally owned crisis prevention management and mitigation structures remain weak despite efforts to improve them. Sound contingency plans and structures should be put in place without delay.

    —  While information collection and collation in the region is relatively well-developed, effective mechanisms for consolidation of critical information sources both at country and regional level remains weak. This has served as a major impediment in helping to quantify needs and response across sectors.


November 2002

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