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Reflections on humanitarian development assistance:
The challenge of using evidence-based analysis to guide interventions in Southern Africa

Workshop report

Save the Children (UK) / SARPN

22 November 2004

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Introductory comments by the organisers

Greg Ramm, SC-UK regional coordinator

The challenge we face is to use evidence to reflect on what we are doing and to make this an integral part of our work. This may seem obvious but in practice we often make little use of evidence and analysis in assessing interventions, designing programmes and deciding on the most appropriate actions and then in evaluating our programmes and interventions. This is not a finger pointing exercise but rather an attempt to take collective responsibility and improve our practice.

We all understand the nature and overwhelming scale of the problems we face. They include food insecurity, HIV/AIDS, orphans and vulnerable children, chronic poverty, poor governance and collapsing basic services. All of them find generalised expression in declining human development indicators across the region.

The recent SC-UK paper, Southern Africa: the cycle of poverty continues, circulated before the meeting shows that while the level of the humanitarian crisis has declined over the last two years, the pattern of crisis will continue to recur until the underlying chronic problems are dealt with. Children make up the majority of the population in the area and childhood is the key point at which the cycle of intergenerational poverty can be broken.

For this to happen there are two broad requirements. The first is access to high quality health and education services and the second is sustainable livelihoods that are adequate for households to fulfil 'children's right to a standard of living that ensures their physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social well-being'. Creating sustainable livelihoods requires social protection in the form of safety nets and economic opportunities that provide an adequate and stable income for all without undermining environmental sustainability.

On present trends, despite the progress being made in some countries, the six target countries in southern Africa: Angola, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe will not meet the three key Millennium Development Goals relating to children's well-being by 2015. These goals are halving the prevalence of malnutrition amongst under fives, reducing the under five mortality rate by two-thirds, and achieving 100% primary school enrolment. In some countries the situation has worsened. For example, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Swaziland have seen increases in child mortality. HIV/AIDS continues to be a huge problem throughout the region.

The SC-UK paper ends with a number of specific recommendations. These include:
  • adopting a longer term perspective and working with governments to develop appropriate responses,
  • meeting emergency needs for the estimated 6 million people facing food insecurity in the 2004/5 season,
  • paying greater attention to supporting the recovery of household livelihood activities, including those of orphan households,
  • continuing to support national and regional food security support systems,
  • increasing government and public commitment to addressing HIV/AIDS and to strengthening health care systems
  • developing social safety nets in order to deal with the social and physical crisis facing the region, and
  • adopting a pro-poor perspective in Poverty Reduction Strategies that prioritises children, ensures access to education and health services, and improves the quality of basic services in order to break the cycle of poverty.
To implement these recommendations effectively we need to understand the dynamics of the household situations facing the children and families we are trying to assist, learn from experience and work with governments to improve the design of policy interventions.

Sue Mbaya, SARPN director

Against the backdrop of successive years of poverty and crisis we need to shift from an immediate to a long-term perspective and look at alternatives to food aid. We need to acknowledge the hard work and commitment that has gone before on the part of a range of players including indigenous and international NGOs, national and regional vulnerability assessment committees, and donor and government agencies. However, while acknowledging this contribution we need to be as critical and analytical as possible in order to learn from the experience. We trust that this workshop, with its diverse range of participants, will start a debate about evidence-based analysis and humanitarian interventions in the region.

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