Africa operation on target
More than a million people affected by hunger
and HIV/AIDS in southern Africa will have been helped by the
region's Red Cross societies when a one-year relief operation
made way for longer-term action in July 2003.
By the end of April, through the International Federation's
Southern Africa Food Security Operation, they had already
delivered over 36,000 tonnes of food to 723,000 people in
Lesotho, Malawi, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Some 116,000
stricken farming families had been helped with seeds, tools
and fertilizers, and 122,000 people with hygienic and medical
supplies. More than 75,000 people will benefit from the ongoing
improvement of water sources and sanitation across the region.
The operation, which was backed by the International Federation's
largest appeal since the Balkans crisis, is meeting most of
its objectives. The 2002 appeal sought 89.3 million Swiss
francs (US$ 61.6 million) to help 1.3 million people threatened
by looming famine.
Alongside its own relief activity, the International Federation
has run one of the largest Red Cross truck fleets ever assembled,
to assist the World Food Programme (WFP). The Southern Africa
Operation's Transport Support Package (TSP) faced initial
logistical problems but already the trucks have delivered
WFP food to distribution points serving hundreds of thousands
of people in remote areas.
The 209-strong fleet of powerful all-terrain vehicles, provided
by the Norwegian government through the Norwegian Red Cross,
is penetrating bush that conventional transport cannot. Bumping
over rocky tracks, through sandy wastes and rivers sometimes
in full flood, they had managed to deliver another 40,700
tonnes of food in Lesotho, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe by
The operational partnership with WFP has shown the importance
of humanitarian agencies developing new strategies to collaborate
and coordinate given the massive needs of southern Africa.
The TSP operation allows the Red Cross and WFP, with WFP implementing
partners handling final distribution, to maximize use of resources.
Prompt international intervention averted the threatened
starvation of more than 14 million people. But hunger was
not the crisis, only a symptom of a new and pernicious process
consuming southern Africa: the interaction of HIV/AIDS with
food insecurity, poverty, common disease and mismanagement
now bringing the region to its knees.
Projections put the prevalence of HIV at well over 50 per
cent in some areas where they foresee life expectancy dropping
below 20 years by 2020. The workforce could be reduced by
half even sooner.
The new harvest has brought little hope of reducing food
insecurity for the most vulnerable people, and deteriorating
health care, an accelerated spread of common disease, the
appalling condition of water and sanitation, food shortage
in urban areas and ineffective agriculture compound the problems.
The combined effect brings ever higher numbers of premature
deaths, especially among families living with HIV/AIDS. In
2001, an estimated 497,000 new deaths from AIDS occurred in
the five food crisis countries. The estimation for 2002 is
likely to be higher. By 2010 between 20 and 33 per cent of
children below the age of 15 will have lost one of both of
The threat of famine may have retreated for now but the crisis
is only developing.