Southern Africa: Food Security Crisis

Southern Africa is facing a major food security crisis following successive years of drought, most recently as a result of the El Niño weather event which meant reduced rains for the region’s crucial 2015-16 agricultural season. Many countries experienced poor or failed harvests in April this year, leaving millions of people with little or no food to sustain them till next year’s harvest. 

Preliminary results from the annual vulnerability assessments released by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) indicate that some 18 million people in the region’s countries worst-hit by drought will need emergency humanitarian assistance during the later months of 2016 and into 2017. With many people's food stocks already depleted or getting low, it is clear that the lean season - which normally runs from October to March - has already begun or is about to begin in parts of the region. 

WFP has categorized the southern Africa region as a Level 3 Corporate Response - its highest level of emergency. Lesotho, Malawi, Swaziland, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe have declared national states of emergency due to drought. All but one of South Africa’s nine provinces, which account for 90 percent of the country’s maize production, have been declared drought disaster areas.

WFP is rapidly scaling up life-saving operations for the most vulnerable communities in the worst-affected countries. WFP is working to reach growing numbers of people with food and cash-based relief while strengthening resilience building. By January 2017, WFP is aiming to assist some 11.9 million drought-affected people in the region by early 2017 through a combination of programmes including longer-term development. The balance of needs is expected to be addressed by both governments and non-government counterparts.

WFP is facing an operational shortfall of US $539 million until April 2017, with US $200 million urgently required for the purchase, transport and pre-positioning of food in areas likely to get cut off once the rainy season begins in November.


Results from the 2016 SADC Vulnerability Assessment results indicate that 709,000 people – a third of the population – are food insecure and that 491,000 will need emergency assistance. Prevalence of HIV/AIDS has climbed from 23 to 25 percent of the population and cases of acute malnutrition have flared above the 2.7 percent national average. WFP has started both cash and food assistance to some 260,000 people in the most affected areas. Read more.

​Photo: WFP/Tsitsi Matope


Results from the 2016 SADC Vulnerability Assessment indicate that 1.1 million people are food insecure and that 665,000 people will need emergency assistance in the south of the island which has suffered three consecutive years of drought (these numbers are projections). WFP is targeting vulnerable people in the worst-hit parts of south Madagascar with a combination of food and cash-based assistance. WFP is also scaling up supplementary feeding to prevent malnutrition among children. In February 2016, acute malnutrition rates reached an average eight percent among the most severely food insecure children. Read more.

Photo: WFP/Volana Rarivoson


Some 6.5 million people – 39 percent of the population – will need emergency food assistance, according to the 2016 SADC Vulnerability Assessment results. This has prompted the largest humanitarian response ever in the country’s history. WFP started the latest round of lean season assistance to the most vulnerable in July and is scaling up to target at least 4.5 million people with a mixture of food and cash-based relief. This is being linked increasingly with the creation of productive assets such as community vegetable gardens and irrigation systems. Funding is urgently required to pre-position food stocks in remote areas ahead of the November rains and so that lives and livelihoods can be protected. Parts of the drought-affected south are prone to flooding during the rainy season. Read more.

Photo: WFP/Malawi


Nearly 2 million people will need of emergency food assistance, according to the 2016 SADC Vulnerability Assessment results (this number is a projection). Of this number, WFP aims to reach 700,000 of the most vulnerable people who are unable to access food to meet their daily needs, through to April 2017.  Poor harvests, combined with currency devaluations, have resulted in a staggering 148 percent increase in the price of white maize. Recent surveys show alarming levels of acute malnutrition in the provinces of Tete, Sofala and Manica. Read more.

​Photo: WFP/Abdoulaye Balde


Results from the 2016 SADC Vulnerability Assessment indicate that 350,000 people – one third of the population - will need of emergency assistance. Water sources have declined by more than 50 percent due to lack of rain. WFP is scaling up its emergency relief operation to reach 100,000 vulnerable people in the most severely affected areas of the country by the end of the year and an additional 50,000 people with cash-based transfers. Swaziland has a very high prevalence of HIV/AIDS – 26 percent among the adult population (15-49 years). Findings from a comprehensive joint health and nutrition assessment in March revealed a deterioration in the health status of people living with HIV/AIDS. Read more.

Photo: WFP/Theresa Piorr


While there are nearly 1 million people in Zambia who will need food relief, the Zambian government has not asked WFP for emergency support. Home-grown school meals, which WFP runs jointly with the Government, are targeting nearly a quarter of a million children in drought-affected districts of the south. WFP is currently engaged in a resilience-building project (R4) aimed at smallholder farmers in the south. The Organization has also deployed innovative digital technology to support the tracking of prices, market access, food quality and supply chain efficiency, by getting respondents to supply vital food security data on their mobile telephones. Most urgently, funds are required for the associated costs to distribute 1,620 mt of maize donated by the government for school meals and to complete distributions for the third school term, which runs from September to December 2016. Read more. 

Photo: WFP/Evin Joyce


The 2016 SADC Vulnerability Assessment results show that more than 4 million people – 44 percent of the rural population – will need of emergency food assistance. Malnutrion has reached or exceeded emergency in a number of districts.  WFP is providing food and cash assistance to hundreds of thousands of people and is planning to scale up to 2.2 million people by January 2017. As much as is possible, food assistance is being integrated with food- or cash-for-work programmes involving the creation or repair of water harvesting and irrigation systems. Also, in collaboration with the government, WFP is initiating an emergency school feeding programme as a short term safety net. Read more.

Photo: WFP/Sophia Robele