With the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Southern Africa now over 2 million and the number of deaths standing at 63,000 – noting that both figures are believed to be significantly underreported due to limited testing and documenting capacity – the pandemic continues to damage lives and livelihoods across the region. While some countries appear to experience a relative lull in the progression of its spread, others – notably Madagascar, where borders are now closed and the parts of the country in lockdown – battle their worst period since the pandemic started, overstretching health care systems. With vaccinations only recently having started, and at a slow pace, the region is likely to face further pressure, especially as seasons and human interaction patterns change.
In several countries in the region, government-imposed restrictions on the movement of its citizens and aspects of their livelihoods continue, further challenging the lives of many who are vulnerable even in non-pandemic times. The character of hunger has changed, with increased urban joblessness and reduced critical remittances. Weakened commodity markets and earnings have tightened fiscal budgets, eroding governments’ ability to respond to the growing needs. The availability and affordability of a variety of nutritious food have also been reduced.
Hardship caused by the pandemic is yet another blow to food insecurity. Southern Africa has long grappled with hunger underpinned and aggravated by pervasive poverty, pronounced inequality and alarming child stunting. Extreme climate and weather conditions continue to hamper the region – most recently illustrated by Cyclone Eloise hitting northern Mozambique earlier in the year.
While people in large parts of the region have recently harvested their main crops, vulnerabilities are heightened and food insecurity widespread. In southern Madagascar, the picture is particularly grim and a significant proportion of young girls and boys, their parents and the elderly do not know where their next meal will come from. Southern Madagascar has seen three successive years of drought and a third of the population – 1.35 million people – need food assistance urgently to avoid a humanitarian disaster. Preliminary results of nutrition screening during the first quarter of the year show a dramatic deterioration of the nutrition situation when compared to the previous three months – the prevalence of acute malnutrition has almost doubled, increasing from 9.2 to 16.5 percent. As food production is projected to be less than 40 percent of the five-year average, the situation will only continue to worsen unless immediate support is provided.
Source: World Food Programme