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Regional themes > Food security Last update: 2020-11-27  

United Nations
United Nations

Mission Report: Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Swaziland

14-22 June 2004

Mr James T. Morris, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Humanitarian Needs in Southern Africa

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It may not make the headlines, but southern Africa must still be considered the location of one of the world’s most serious humanitarian crises. The scenes may not be as compelling as those that emerge from dusty and desperate refugee camps or from the devastation caused by an earthquake, but the numbers tell of an extraordinary human tragedy. Life expectancy in the six most affected countries of southern Africa1 has declined by an average 22 years as a result of HIV/AIDS. At least one child in five in these countries is expected to be an orphan by 2010 – and the ratio is even higher in some countries.2 Child mortality rates are rocketing in the region. These six countries are experiencing slowed or negative population growth rates, but not because of a reduction in the number of births. It is because of the increase in deaths.

A deadly combination of food insecurity, HIV/AIDS and weakened governance capacity – on top of crippling chronic poverty – is driving a decline in development indicators in the region. This translates into a deep crisis of livelihoods, with millions suffering from illness, hunger or lack of access to basic services. As a result, hundreds of thousands of women, children and men are dying much younger than normal.

Governments and the international community have made progress in the last two years since dramatic food shortages drew attention to the situation in the region and shocked many into action. A potential famine has been averted. Farmers have been helped to recover their production in many places with seeds and inputs. With emergency funding, millions of children have been inoculated against disease. Millions of dollars have been allocated to countries in southern Africa to fight HIV/AIDS through global funding mechanisms such as the Global Fund for HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the World Bank’s Multi-Country HIV/AIDS Programme (MAP). Perhaps most important, more governments are engaged and committed to taking the necessary steps to fighting the pandemic and helping their citizens rebuild their livelihoods.

The Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Humanitarian Needs in Southern Africa travelled to the region from 14 to 22 June 2004 to review the crisis and its response, accompanied by representatives of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and WFP. The mission visited Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland and Namibia.3

Despite the progress made in responding to the crisis so far, much more needs to be done – and there is no time to waste. A crippling lack of capacity is affecting the public sector across the region, especially in the areas of agriculture, education and health. In most cases, training institutions are unable to keep up with the attrition rate of teachers, extension workers and healthcare professionals because of economic migration or prolonged illness and deaths related to HIV/AIDS. Losses at senior and managerial levels will also have a long-lasting effect. In Malawi, the Ministry of Health reports a stunning 90 percent vacancy rate for physicians and a 60 percent vacancy rate for nurses in the state health system. The United Nations needs to help rebuild and replenish the human and technological resources of the civil services of these countries as a matter of great urgency.

Capacity issues are also causing substantial delays in using the external funds already allocated to many countries of the region for combating HIV/AIDS. Finding ways to translate the funds into tangible actions that improve peoples’ lives is an urgent and major challenge. Moreover, these funds should not necessarily be focused narrowly on the treatment of HIV/AIDS: they should also be used to address some of the root causes of the pandemic.

In the response to the ongoing crisis, the international community must stay focused on the people we are collectively trying to serve. Everything we do must be centred on improving the lives of vulnerable people, especially women, children and young people, who need the most help. We need to understand vulnerability better by strengthening our assessment processes and to link our responses to a livelihoods approach. Most important, we need bold new initiatives that can be scaled up dramatically and that will make a positive impact on the lives of a significant number of people.

The United Nations has a fundamental role to play in all these efforts, but there will have to be significant changes in the way it does its business. The mission met with United Nations country teams across the region that are struggling to do what they can; they need more support from the highest levels of their agencies, and they need to work together more closely to form a United Nations response rather than adopting agency-specific approaches to the situation. The Resident Coordinators are extremely important in creating coherence and a collaborative environment, but all agencies need to make a stronger commitment to the Resident Coordinator system and to create collegial, respectful and humble partnerships with each other and with governments and civil society. Strong partnerships and joint programming will allow the United Nations to take the response in southern Africa to the next level.

  1. Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
  2. UNICEF. 2003. Africa’s Orphaned Generations.
  3. Zimbabwe was included in the original mission itinerary, but the visit was cancelled after the Government indicated that the proposed dates were not appropriate. The Government has indicated that an invitation for the Special Envoy to return would be forthcoming at a later date. Namibia was included in the mission itinerary as a result of the Government’s appeal in November 2003 for international assistance to address problems of drought and HIV/AIDS in the northern parts of the country. Despite its middle-income status, Namibia has one of the most dramatic disparities in income distribution; social indicators in the north are comparable with other countries in the region. During meetings with the country team and Government, it was agreed that the country should be included among those affected by the crisis in southern Africa.

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