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?
In April 2002 the Government of Lesotho was the first of six countries in Southern African to declare a national food security emergency3. In May 2002, out of a total population of 2.2 million, it was projected that 9% of the rural population in Lesotho would be in need of food assistance. By November/December of the same year this figure had significantly increased to 42% (LVAC 2002). Compared to Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique, where estimates were later reduced, estimates of those in need of assistance in Lesotho have remained high through to 2004.