Development gains made during the 1980s and 1990s in Southern Africa are being rapidly reversed by the 'triple threat' of HIV/AIDS, erratic weather and weakened government capacity, requiring a new approach to humanitarian aid, argues a new UN report.
The 'Inter-Agency Regional Humanitarian Strategic Framework for Southern Africa' document, born out of consultations between UN agencies, NGOs and donors, noted that "every effort is needed to help stop and reverse the current downward trend in human development indicators".
HIV/AIDS and extreme poverty were the main drivers of the humanitarian crisis, and have mutually influenced and aggravated one another.
"The experience of the past two years has demonstrated just how vulnerable the people of Southern Africa have become. While poor weather was the trigger for the regional crisis in 2002, the depth of underlying vulnerability made the impact of these 'shocks' far worse than was the case in [the drought of] 1992/3, for example," the report observed.
Since then, weather conditions have continued to be 'unfavourable' in some parts of the region, "but not to the extent that it explains the current 6.7 million vulnerable and food-insecure people".
Southern Africa was thus at the forefront of a new type of emergency.
Low adult literacy rates, high HIV prevalence and child mortality rates were evidence of the "low livelihood base of millions of people" throughout the region.
"The massive increase in vulnerable households, as well as whole communities, is closely related to the overall decline in human development in most countries in Southern Africa, resulting in the severely vulnerable being unable to provide for their own needs; and communities, civil society and states being increasingly unable to assist them," the report pointed out.
This required a paradigm shift among aid agencies and NGOs responding to the crisis.
The paper asserts that, given the combination of short-term shocks and long-term challenges associated with the crisis, "the dichotomy of 'humanitarian' and 'development' assistance must be overcome; instead, an approach should be composed of 'developmental relief' and 'emergency development'".
"What this means is that, while life-saving support is provided to take the severely vulnerable away from the edge of survival, assistance is simultaneously aimed at empowering states, civil societies and communities, to put in place safety nets to assist the most vulnerable in times of stress," the researchers concluded.
Humanitarian interventions aimed at addressing immediate needs should focus on identifying 'hotspots' and ensuring that these communities had access to food and nutritional services, adequate seeds and tools, clean drinking water and sanitation, among other priorities.
Actions to address longer-term needs should focus on providing livelihood support (including microcredit, diversifying sources of income, agricultural extension services, vocational training and sustainable access to markets), and ensuring access to safety nets (including cash transfers and public works programmes).
Supporting national and local authorities in developing appropriate disaster risk reduction strategies, including preparedness and response plans, was also critical.
"In order to achieve these objectives, agencies will need to work closely with governments," the paper noted, "to ensure that national policies and programmes adequately address the needs of vulnerable populations ... and that social services cope with ... changing needs."
For the full report go to: www.reliefweb.int