Red Cross helping those suffering from a food crisis in southern Africa

Saara Mansikkamäki / Finnish Red Cross
Finnish Red Cross has experience in delivering aid in eSwatini and Zimbabwe. Children Silent, Enwet, Terrance and Boshet live in the Muzarabani region, Zimbabwe.
Image: Saara Mansikkamäki / Finnish Red Cross

The cash grants and food aid provided by the Red Cross are helping families get through the worst drought period in eSwatini and Zimbabwe.

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According to the UN, more than 11 million people are suffering from a food shortage in nine southern African countries due to the drought. The situation is alarming.

‘In parts of southern Africa, the crops have already been lost. Crops should reach maturity in April, but some people have only just sown theirs. After March, the rains usually cease and a dry winter period begins,’ says Finnish Red Cross Disaster Management Adviser Jouko Ala-Outinen from Nairobi.

For many families, this means a single meal of low nutritional value a day. Without a harvest, families must find other ways of coping, such as selling their animals.

Ala-Outinen is monitoring the situation at the location. According to him, this year’s drought crisis will continue to have an impact on the harvest time of this year and the next. The number of those requiring help will rise towards the end of the year when people run out of whatever reserves they had.

The effects of climate change are making the drought even worse.

‘Southern Africa is at the centre of the area affected by climate change – the cycle of rainy and dry seasons has changed and the cycle of drought years is getting faster. People will need new sources of livelihood,’ Ala-Outinen says.

‘From families’ perspective, the situation is extremely difficult. People need immediate help in order to ensure sufficient nutrition.’

Mobile money exchanged for maize flour, beans and oil

In eSwatini, the food crisis is affecting one quarter of the population. One fifth of the country’s population is living with very little food and is in urgent need of help.

The Red Cross is providing 2,200 families with cash grants in the vulnerable region of Shiselweni to help them get through the worst period.

‘In similar programmes in many other African countries, over 95 per cent of the recipients use their cash grants on food. They can buy for example maize flour, beans and oil.’

The Finnish Red Cross has a principle that cash grants are given to the people in charge of their family’s meals. Typically, such people include mothers, grandmothers and women who are breastfeeding or pregnant.

‘Women become empowered when they can make decisions on behalf of their family.’

The aid operation is being carried out by the Baphalali Swaziland Red Cross Society, one of the smallest in Africa.

‘They are incredibly eager to learn new things and perform at maximum capacity. Our work together is going very well.’

Cash grants replaced by food aid in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe is suffering from the worst food crisis in a decade. According to the World Food Programme, more than nine million people do not have enough food.

‘The drought crisis is many times worse in Zimbabwe compared to the smaller eSwatini, but because of the drought the food security situation is almost identical in both countries – and in many others as well,’ Ala-Outinen says.

In addition to the prolonged drought, Zimbabwe has been afflicted by extreme weather phenomena, such as floods caused by cyclone Idai last March, and the country’s economic collapse. Many people have no food, nor the option of buying any, because of its decreased availability. For this reason, the Finnish Red Cross is replacing the planned cash grants in the country with food aid.

The aid work conducted by the Finnish Red Cross in eSwatini and Zimbabwe is supported by the EU and donors.

‘As a donor, the European Union is more a partner than some faceless source of funding. They take part in running the aid operation, monitor its quality and encourage participants to achieve good results,’ says Ala-Outinen.