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IRIN PlusNews HIV/AIDS News and information service | Southern Africa | SOUTHERN AFRICA: Cycle of poverty leads to recurring crises | Children, Economy, Other | Focus
Tuesday 21 February 2006
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SOUTHERN AFRICA: Cycle of poverty leads to recurring crises

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


Breaking the cycle of poverty will prevent recurring crises, argues report

JOHANNESBURG, 2 December (PLUSNEWS) - Governments, aid agencies and donors need to acknowledge the chronic nature of problems that lead to recurring crises in Southern Africa, such as the widespread food shortages two years ago, a new report recommends.

Titled "Southern Africa: The Cycle of Poverty Continues", the study by the development agency Save the Children argued that although the number of food insecure people was now estimated to be 60 percent lower than at the height of the crisis in 2002, "Save the Children does not believe that it is a case of 'mission accomplished', and that we can now shift our collective energies to other acute crises".

"Two years ago, Southern Africa was the focus of attention for the humanitarian community and for public concern. Between the six focus countries of a regional appeal (Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe) and Angola, over 16.5 million people were estimated to be in need of emergency assistance to meet their food needs," the report said.

Given the decline in the number of food-insecure people, aid agencies have been rapidly scaling down their activities and targeting their assistance at "residual vulnerable groups".

Save the Children noted that up to April 2005, "over 6 million people ... [will be] in need of assistance" in Southern Africa.

"Crucially, however, looking at developments over the last three years, there is a clear pattern within Southern Africa of crises continuing, or recurring after a previous improvement in some countries; longer-term indicators highlight the inevitability of crises recurring throughout the region. We should be beginning to address the chronic problems in the region that are maintaining and, in most cases, worsening a cycle that will keep children and future generations in an unacceptable state of poverty," the NGO argued.

This would entail a shift to investment in basic services such as education and healthcare, supporting livelihood recovery, enhancing safety net provision, scaling up activities to prevent, mitigate and treat HIV/AIDS, and continued support for efforts aimed at boosting food security.

The NGO called on ministries and donors to ensure that resource allocation prioritised children.

"Children make up the majority of the population of Southern Africa, and their development is the only hope for the region's future - childhood is the key point at which the cycle of intergenerational poverty can be broken. As long as most Southern African children are born into desperate poverty, suffer malnutrition and ill-health, and have access to inadequate health services and education, or none at all, neither they nor the region itself can hope to fulfil their potential," said the report.

It identified two broad requirements for breaking this cycle.

"The first is universal access to high-quality health services and education. Since poor households cannot afford to pay for these services at their full cost, this requires a substantial level of public spending to finance them, and the support of donors and institutions backing national poverty reduction strategies. Equally important is sustainable livelihoods, allowing households to generate incomes adequate to fulfil children's right to a standard of living adequate for the child's physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social well-being," Save the Children urged.

Apart from public spending on social safety nets, "policies which ensure that the economy itself generates economic opportunities providing an adequate and stable level of income for all, without undermining future well-being through adverse environmental effects" were required.

The report commented that the process of development had stalled or reversed in most of Southern Africa over the last 10 years. "In Zambia and Zimbabwe the level of human development measured by UNDP [UN Development Programme] peaked almost 20 years ago and has been in decline ever since. Only Mozambique has managed to achieve sustained improvements, though it still remains the least developed country in the region."

In terms of the Millennium Development Goals, the region's performance was described as "very discouraging".


The HIV/AIDS epidemic was a growing problem in Southern Africa, with HIV prevalence rates and deaths from AIDS being higher than anywhere else in the world.

Infection levels varied "from a high of 38.8 percent in Swaziland to an estimated 5.5 percent in Angola". The disease had also created almost three million orphans across the region.

"With 5.7 million people currently living with HIV/AIDS, that figure can only increase in the future, putting even greater strain on families' and households' ability to support one another," Save the Children added.

The response of the humanitarian community to the Southern African food crisis over the past three years had been largely successful in preventing increased malnutrition and deaths from hunger.

"However, our collective responses to date have failed to address the underlying problems in the region and, as a result, we are seeing a situation where 'crisis' becomes a recurring feature, with a small trigger enough to push people over the edge again," the authors remarked.

Current food aid needs in the region - the greatest being across much of Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Swaziland and southern Malawi, the flood-affected parts of western Zambia, and the central plateau and southeast of Angola - could not be blamed on erratic weather.

"To relate the problems this year again to climatic factors is to miss the point somewhat. It is certainly true that adverse weather conditions have resulted in below-normal harvests in many of the areas affected. But our knowledge of the livelihoods of the region, developed over the last three years, clearly shows climate is only one factor among many affecting agricultural performance, and agriculture is often the largest, but by no means the only, source of livelihoods for the population in the region."

Malawi, with a largely rural and poverty-stricken population, was an example of the "fragility of livelihoods" in the region, and of the likelihood of a cycle of recurring crises.

"The situation in Malawi in early 2002 was the prompt for much of the response to the crisis in the region, and 3.6 million people in Malawi were estimated to be in need of assistance in 2002-03. The following year, however, the numbers in need fell to a point where there was considered to be no need for national-level emergency assistance. However, this year, poor rains contributed to a partial crop failure in the south of the country and, as a result of their high underlying vulnerability even to small shocks, over 1.5 million are again estimated to require assistance," Save the Children said.

Based on existing knowledge of the fragility of livelihoods in the region, it was vital that early warning functions be maintained.


Among the recommendations in the report was the need to view the situation in Southern Africa as a "chronic crisis of development with recurring episodes of acute needs", rather than as a short-term crisis or "food security problem".

Development needs had to be addressed from a long-term and multisectoral perspective by donors, government and aid agencies.

"Considering the high levels of chronic poverty in the region, and the ongoing impact of HIV/AIDS, safety net programmes will be required to support the poorest in the community over the long term. Cash-based transfers to supplement income are likely to be the most efficient and appropriate means of doing this, though in-kind safety nets, such as vouchers for education or health costs, or for subsidised agricultural inputs, will also be suitable in some circumstances," the NGO suggested.

After at least three years of drought in large parts of the region, greater emphasis should be placed on livelihood recovery activities for households and communities.

"[Recovery] programmes must be relevant to local needs, but may include livestock re-stocking, support for accessing agricultural inputs, and support for improved marketing of rural produce. Programmes should be adapted to ensure they also include youth and Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVCs), many of whom will not have been fortunate enough to have had [agricultural knowledge] ... passed on to them from their parents," the report observed.

Greater government and donor commitment to addressing HIV/AIDS was needed, and Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers should take a pro-poor perspective that not only supported the livelihoods of the poor, but also made sufficient provision for investment in services for children, so that the intergenerational cycle of poverty could be broken.

"This includes the abolition of user-fees for education and healthcare, and devoting more public spending to enhancing the quality of basic services, including investing in the recurrent costs of key ministries," the report said.

"Conditions attached by donors and international financial institutions to aid and to debt reduction must focus less on short-term economic indicators, such as reducing inflation and government budget deficits, and more on investment in human capital," the report concluded.


Armed forces to tackle impact of HIV/AIDS,  13/Feb/06
AIDS-prevention policies promote stigma - expert,  28/Oct/05
HIV/AIDS eroding region's development, says UN report,  7/Sep/05
Farm workers neglected in HIV/AIDS prevention efforts,  11/Aug/05
HIV/AIDS, hunger a security threat, WFP warns,  1/Jul/05
· AIDS Media Center
· The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria
· International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS
· International HIV/AIDS Alliance

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