In the first half of 2002 it became clear that Southern Africa was at risk of a food and humanitarian crisis. Between February and April 2002 the governments of Lesotho, Malawi, and Zimbabwe declared emergencies, while in Mozambique an emergency plan to combat the effects of drought was begun. Subsequently in July 2002 the UN issued a consolidated appeal for US$611 million to address the crisis in the six countries most affected: Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
At the height of the crisis, in late 2002 and early 2003, nearly 15 million people, fully 25% of the population of the six countries, were considered food insecure. In response large amounts of additional food were shipped into the region, including food aid provided by donors.
These events prompt three sets of questions, namely:
- What exactly took place during the crisis?
- What were its causes? And,
- What policy lessons are there to be learned to prevent or mitigate similar occurrences in future?
Mozambique differs from its neighbours in that it is a coastal country, with few areas more than 100 km from the sea. It is also a country still recovering from the effects of the bitter strife from the early 1980s until the 1990s; that left a legacy of poor physical infrastructure, and low levels of government services.
Unlike most of its neighbours, however, Mozambique has seen rapid economic growth over the last ten years in response to peace – albeit from a very low baseline. That said, there is a question over whether this growth can be sustained over and above the repair of war damage, and whether the growth will translate into jobs and incomes for the majority.
Mozambique may have been the least affected country by the regional crisis of 2001–03, although its problems began earlier than most. In 2000, flooding displaced 380,000 people in the south and central regions, out of the country’s total population of around 18.6 million, prompting the Government to declare a state of emergency. Poor rains in the subsequent 2001–02 and 2002–03 seasons led to estimates of yearly needs for food aid for roughly 600,000 people, only partially met. Rains, though erratic, improved for the 2003–04 season, with significant increases in food production and reductions in food prices. Over 100,000 people, however, still needed aid.