Anticipating and Responding to Drought Emergencies in Southern Africa: Lessons from the 2002-2003 Experience

October 1, 2006 - Author: <>, Jan J. Nijhoff, Pedro Arlindo, Billy Mwinga, <>, and T.S. Jayne

IDWP 89. David Tschirley, Jan J. Nijhoff, Pedro Arlindo, Billy Mwinga, Michael T. Weber, and T.S. Jayne. 2006. Anticipating and Responding to Drought Emergencies in Southern Africa: Lessons from the 2002-2003 Experience

This paper examines the efficiency and effectiveness of emergency response in southern Africa
through the lens of the 2002/03 food crisis in the region. The authors outline improvements in
information and operational procedures needed to enhance the response to future events. They
also discuss national and regional trade regime changes that would reduce the need for
emergency response, and consider what lessons the 2002/03 crisis may have for the role of
Strategic Grain Reserves (SGRs).

Market reform in the region has lead to more diversified production patterns (cassava production
especially has grown), more decentralized food distribution systems, and more varied food
consumption patterns at least in urban areas. Each of these changes should reduce the region’s
dependence on external food aid during droughts. Yet some researchers and policy makers have
become concerned that many households in the region are becoming more vulnerable to shocks,
not less. This apparent increase in vulnerability has become a standard part of the understanding
of the 2002/03 food crisis.

A review of the chronology of early warning and response suggests that early warning clearly
worked during the 2002/03 crisis. It alerted local governments and the international community
to looming food shortages as the harvest was just beginning, provided quantitative estimates of
the number of affected households and the need for food aid and commercial imports, regularly
updated these numbers through effective communications, and mobilized public opinion and
resources to meet enough of those estimated needs to largely avert a humanitarian crisis. The
early warning and response process also reflected an exceptional degree of collaboration among
governments in the region, the emergency response community, and donor agencies. The way in
which the work of national Vulnerable Assessment Committees (VACs) was coordinated by the
Southern African Development Community (SADC) Regional VAC and fed into donor and
relief agency response is especially impressive.


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