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Southern Africa food crisis 2020: find out what's happening, where it's happening, and see the solutions to the escalating food insecurity crisis in Southern Africa.

Countries in Southern Africa are currently facing the region's worst drought in 35 years. 

More than nine million people are struggling with severe food shortages, and this number is expected to increase to 45 million over the next few months.

Late rains, the aftermath of two major cyclones, drought and flooding have caused crops to fail and food prices to soar across Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe. 

ActionAid are on the ground delivering life-saving aid to people in urgent need

Please donate just £30 today, and help us reach people in urgent need.

Donate now

Which countries are in Southern Africa?

Southern Africa is a region generally thought to comprise Angola, Botswana, Eswatini (also known as Swaziland), Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

The 2020 food crisis is most seriously affecting Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe - here they are on a map.

Countries affected by the crisis

Southern Africa food and climate crisis

What causes food crises?

Food crises are caused by a series of complex factors, including changes to the climate, extreme weather events like cyclones and floods, pest infestations, and/or human disasters like conflict

These events can cause crops to fail and food prices to rise; they can also cause road blockages, stopping the transport of food and supplies. 

Food insecurity can also be affected by political and economic factors like inflation, land access, fuel prices and government investment in food production.1

As floods, droughts, typhoons and other climate-related emergencies become more frequent, people living in the most vulnerable places are finding it even harder to farm and earn a living. The poorer people are, the harder it is to recover from the effects of climate change. 

What has caused the food crisis in Southern Africa?

Southern Africa is still recovering in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai, which killed over 1,000 people in the region and left at least 400,000 without a home

Just weeks later, Mozambique was hit by a second cyclone, Cyclone Kenneth.

Both disasters affected huge areas of farmland, destroying crops. There were donations of seeds as part of the recovery effort, but an infestation of armyworms, a type of caterpillar, further damaged and destroyed crops.2

On top of this, large areas of Southern Africa are suffering prolonged drought and unusually high temperatures, damaging vegetables and other crops.3

Read more stories about the crisis and what ActionAid is doing in Southern Africa.

What is a drought?

A drought is defined as extended period - a season, a year, or several years - of deficient precipitation compared to the average for a region, which results in water shortages.4

Its direct consequences include reduced crop, rangeland, and forest productivity, increased fire hazard and increased livestock mortality rates.

But it also has wide-ranging indirect consequences, like higher unemployment rates, lower tax revenues and higher migration rates.5

What are the solutions to the food crisis?

An early response is critical, and significantly more effective than later, emergency interventions. 

ActionAid and our local partners are on the ground in Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, distributing life-saving items including food and water purification tablets, plus critical items for longer term health like sanitary products and essentials kits.

Read more about how ActionAid is distrubuting supplies in Zimbabwe

We are also supporting women and girls to create their own safe spaces where they feel physically and emotionally protected.

And in the longer term, we are building communities’ resilience to climate disasters by training women and young people to take leadership roles during emergencies, and supporting farmers to develop climate-resilient farming techniques. 

Please donate now and help us deliver life-saving supplies.

  • 1. https://www.unescap.org/news/un-report-says-food-crisis-must-be-addressed-part-response-economic-crisis
  • 2. https://actionaid.org/stories/2019/severe-drought-hits-mozambique-months-after-devastating-cyclone-idai
  • 3. https://actionaid.org/stories/2019/families-are-surviving-one-meal-day-drought-hit-zambia
  • 4. http://www.fao.org/3/aq191e/aq191e.pdf
  • 5. http://www.fao.org/3/aq191e/aq191e.pdf

A DEC appeal has been launched to respond to the Indonesia tsunami and earthquake, with the Government matching the first £2 million of donations through Aid Match. 

DEC Indonesia Tsunami Appeal launch

ActionAid are proud to be part of the DEC Indonesia Tsunami Appeal, which launched on Thursday, 5 October to bring together the efforts of 14 UK charities.

International Development Secretary, Penny Mordaunt, has announced that the Government will provide further assistance to those affected by the earthquake and tsunami by aid matching the DEC appeal.

"The British public have been very moved by the plight of so many people hit by these terrible events," Penny Mordaunt said. 

"Aid Match is a chance for the British public to help directly to support people in desperate need. As well as our support through UK aid, the UK government will match pound for pound all public donations up to £2 million.

"Your help will make a genuine difference, ensuring that lifesaving aid reaches those in dire need in Indonesia right now."

ActionAid's Head of Humanitarian Response Mike Noyes was at the launch of the appeal with Secretary of State for International Development Penny Mourdant, and other members of the DEC.

"It's great to have our collective efforts supported by the Minister and the Department for International Development," he said.

"Thousands of people are in urgent need in Indonesia, so it's essential we come together and deliver aid as quickly as possible."


Please donate now

What is the DEC? 

The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) brings together 14 UK charities, including ActionAid, to coordinate efforts and jointly raise funds to respond to major emergencies. By coming together, we can raise more money to save lives and rebuild shattered communities.

DEC Chief Executive, Saleh Saeed, said:

"We are delighted that the next £2 million donated by the British public will be matched by the UK Government.

"We are deeply grateful for the generosity of people in the UK and we hope that this announcement will inspire even more people to give, knowing that whatever they donate will be matched pound for pound.

"The situation in Indonesia is truly desperate. People have now gone several days without food, many are still believed to be trapped under the rubble, and we have heard stories of children becoming separated from their families.

"DEC member charities are on the ground doing everything they can to help, but more funds are urgently needed to ensure we can reach as many people as possible."


Please donate now

The death toll from the Indonesia tsunami and earthquake, which struck the island of Sulawesi on Friday 28 Sep, now stands at over 2,000. Read on for live updates about the emergency from our local team on the ground. 

Live updates from our team in Indonesia

Tuesday 16 October 2018

Latest figures indicate that 2,100 people have lost their lives, 4,612 people are severely injured, 78,994 are displaced and 68,451 homes are damaged. Multiple aftershocks have worsened conditions in the affected areas of Indonesia - as of 14th Oct there were recorded 634 aftershocks in Central Sulawesi. 

As YAPPIKA-ActionAid and our team on the ground move beyond the initial relief period, we will implement a six-month response in Palu, Donggala and Sigi. This is expected to focus on: food and household kits; psycho-social care; long-term support helping families to repair their houses and rehabilitate drinking water sources; support with livelihood recovery (eg. providing boats and fishing nets), policy and advocacy issues and ensuring the protection of women and girls living in shelter. 

There remain thousands of people in Indonesia who are in urgent need of life-saving relief. Please continue to support this appeal, and help us reach as many people as possible in Indonesia.

Just £10 could pay for one tarpaulin to provide immediate shelter for a displaced family in Indonesia. You can help:

Please donate now

Friday 12 October 2018

Mutmainah Korona, YAPPIKA-ActionAid’s leading partner for direct response, has spoken of the extremely dangerous conditions in Palu:

“There are no supplies or provisions for pregnant women. Women are giving birth outside or in temporary shelters with no medical support putting them and their new born babies at risk. People are starting to get ill because of poor nutrition, the weather and drinking unfiltered water.”

“The hardest areas to get to are those hit by liquefaction. Roads are still impassable and communication from the areas is extremely poor. We don’t know how many people are still there, what supplies are most needed and how much they need. Our priority is now reaching these people.”

“The situation in Palu and Donggala is far from stable. There is no real data that can help predict when and how strong the aftershocks might be. The Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency has already recorded 526 aftershocks, since the 7.4 magnitude earthquake struck on Friday 9 October. So, it feels like any progress we have made can become undone at any time.”

Fransisca Fitri, Executive Director of YAPPIKA-ActionAid, said: “Survivors are still searching for their missing loved ones. I heard from one of our partners in Palu, that there are 19 families in Watusampu (sub‐district in Palu) who are desperately looking for their missing parents and children without help from the rescue agency.” 
“They are hoping for miracles in a situation without hope."

Wednesday 10 October 2018

As of Wednesday, 10th October 2018 the death toll from Indonesia stands at 2,045. 10,679 people are severely injured, and 82,775 are displaced. The number of people missing remains unclear. 

Our team on the ground are distributing relief materials in Sigi, Petobo, Jono and Binangga, including bottles of water, nappies, blankets, underwear, sanitary napkins, baby powder, baby oil, sarongs, baby clothes and biscuits, toothpaste, toothbrushes, mosquito repellent and baby mosquito nets. They have also set up an emergency public kitchen, serving hot food. 

Fransisca Fitri, Executive Director of YAPPIKA-ActionAid, has sent in updates on the situation in Indonesia and the inspirational women helping lead our response on the ground. 

“The situation in Palu is far from stable," he said. "Women urgently need our support, especially those with babies or young children.
“We are worried about women being able to access water safely. Too many people are trying to use too few wells. It is harder for women to access these wells safely and we need to ensure that women can get clean, safe water especially in this hot weather. At the moment we are giving out thousands of litres of water every day to women and their families, but this is only a short-term solution.
“I am so pleased that we can support local partners and community leaders to help people affected by the Tsunami.”
“Lian, is just one of the inspirational women supporting our response. In Poso, Lian has helped to set up 15 field kitchens to prepare 5,000 meals a day for the local people and for communities further away who have no food.

“Rina, who coordinates a local women’s association, is helping to make sure that women and children’s needs are being met. Not only is she coordinating aid distributions, she is also recruiting and training local volunteers to be relief workers at this challenging time.”

"We are prioritising food, water, formula milk, diapers, and sanitary napkins for women and children in urgent need," Rina says. "We are distributing 200 boxes of mineral water daily to families who have been left homeless and are living in very difficult conditions.”

“It’s not just that we have had a Tsunami; it’s not that we have had an earthquake too; it’s the liquefaction and it’s also the mudslides," says Chalid Muhammad, leading member of our rapid assessment team. "This is truly unprecedented.

"As a result of liquefaction villages, coconut trees and houses have moved kilometres from their original places. Think about what this means for boundaries and for communities in the future. If your house is where someone else’s used to be what do you do? If you can’t prove you used to live somewhere because you have lost your identification and deeds to your house what do you do then?”

Tuesday 9 October 2018

Below are the latest images from our team-on-the-ground in Central Sulawesi. They are delivering food and supplies to people who have lost everything in the aftermath of the tsunami and earthquake. 

Dewi checks the blood pressure of a pregnant woman. 1500 people were displaced and found shelter in Langaoge coconut farm when a powerful  7.5 earthquake magnitude struck off the coast of Donggala (epicentre) Central Sulawesi, Indonesia

A medical student volunteer, Dewi, checks the blood pressure of Syamsul 75 who isn't able to walk.

Medical student volunteers load food and supplies onto a pick up truck

Donated Food.  1500 people were displaced and found shelter in Langaoge coconut farm when a powerful  7.5 earthquake magnitude struck off the coast of Donggala (epicentre) Central Sulawesi.


Monday 8 October 2018:

Below are the latest incredible images from our team on-the-ground in Sulawesi, including this image of Femi and her baby daughter (still unnamed), who was born on a coconut farm as Femi took shelter during the earthquake and tsunami. 

Femi and her daughter

Yurni (55) looks after her sick grandson Zahid (2) inside a makeshift tent.

Ibu Heni (32) prepares a hot porridge inside her tent.

As of Monday, 8th October the death toll from the disaster stands at 1,900, with a further 5,000 people missing. 

The true scale of the disaster is only now becoming clear. Tens of thousands of homes have been destroyed and entire communities have been decimated. Hundreds of thousands of survivors are now in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, many of whom are women and children.

Homes and entire communities have been destroyed, 1.5 million people have been affected and 200,000 are in desperate need of help. Authorities fear that casualties and the number of those displaced by the disaster will continue to rise in the coming days.

Fransisca Fitri, Executive Director of YAPPIKA-ActionAid has sent reports of the soil liquefaction that has occured following the earthquake, making search and rescue efforts extremely challenging.

“With 5,000 now feared missing, our local partners are using Google Person Finder to publish photos of missing people so that friends and family can help search for victims and refugees," he said.

“Search and rescue has been incredibly difficult. The intensity of shaking caused by the earthquakes turned the earth into liquid. Buildings sank into it whilst others were moved long distances by the powerful flows.”

“Our local teams are reporting that people cannot find their houses because they have literally shifted to another village. There are reports that an entire football field is now located in a different village.”

Friday 5 Oct 2018:

A week on from the devastating events in Indonesia, we've just received a series of photos from our team on the ground in Palu and nearby towns, highlighting the scenes of destruction as well as the relief effort rolling out. 

Photograph from the ActionAid rapid assessment team showing scenes of destruction in the town of Petobo, near Palu.

Destruction in the town of Sigi, near Palu

Destroyed buildings in the town of Petobo, near Palu

Internally displaced people (IDP) in the village of Lolu, near Palu, who have set up temporary shelter

It has also been announced that the UK Government will match the first £2 million of public donations to the DEC Indonesia Tsunami Appeal

Thursday 4 Oct 2018:

As of Thursday 4 Oct, the death toll of the Indonesia tsunami stands at 1,424. We know 2,549 people are severely injured at at least 70,000 are displaced and being housed in 141 evacuation sites. 

Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) appeal has now been launched to coordinate the efforts of the 14 participating UK charities, including ActionAid. 

A team of 60 staff and volunteers, from the coalition ActionAid are part of, are on the ground now in Palu delivering aid to affected people. The team has distributed initial relief supplies (e.g. solar lamps, tents, tarpaulins) to approximately 2,500 displaced people.

Further relief items arrived in Palu yesterday and are ready to be distributed, including bottles of water, nappies and blankets. A further 15 volunteers have also deployed to Palu. 

The team in Donggala has set up a public emergency kitchen, and continues to gather data and participate in search and rescue activities.

Wednesday 3 Oct 2018:

As of Weds 3 Oct, the death toll stands at 1,347. Over 600 people are severely injured and 61,867 are displaced and being housed in 109 evacuation sites.

The United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs says there are nearly 200,000 people in urgent need of assistance, about a quarter of them children.

The most affected areas are Palu, Donggala, Parigi Moutong and Sigi. There have multiple aftershocks and cases of soil liquefaction in Palu and Sigi which are exacerbating conditions. There are growing concerns over lack of food, fuel and water.

The difficult terrain is making reaching people extremely difficult - we're hearing from Indonesia that it is taking 30 hours to transport supplies from the nearest functioning port, Makassar, to the worst-affected areas. 

Meanwhile, in a separate incident the Soputan Volcano in northern Sulawesi has erupted, which adds to our concerns, although the volcano is far enough away from the areas worst-affected by the tsunami so as not to hamper relief efforts. Although possible that the eruption was at least partly triggered by the quake, more scientific analysis will be needed to determine this for certain. 

Tuesday 2 Oct 2018:

As at Tues 2 Oct, the death toll is now at 1,234 but is expected to continue to rise considerably.

Communication networks are still unreliable, making communication with teams in affected areas challenging.

Monday 1 Oct 2018:

As at Monday 1 Oct it is estimated that 844 people have died, 632 people are severely injured and 48,025 are displaced and being housed in 103 evacuation sites. As expected these figures have increased from yesterday and are expected to continue to rise as relief efforts increase.

Our team in Indonesia tells us there have been over 200 aftershocks and cases of soil liquefaction in Palu and Sigi which are exacerbating conditions.

The coalition ActionAid is part of in Indonesia has sent teams with experience in emergency and field data collection to Palu and Dongalla. The teams are on the ground now assessing needs and gathering information, and will be providing equipment and a limited amount of essential supplies to affected people, e.g. electricity generator, solar lamps, tents and tarpaulins.

Over the next few days the coalition plans to deploy further relief supplies to Palu and Donggala, including food, clothes, blankets, sanitary products for women and nappies.

We urgently need your support to deliver emergency supplies to the worst affected people.

Please donate now



Sunday 30 Sep 2018:

It is estimated that 832 people have died, 540 people are severely injured and 16,732 are displaced and being housed in 24 evacuation sites. These figures are expected to rise further.

Our local ActionAid staff in Indonesia are part of a coalition of organisations coordinated by Friends of the Earth. ActionAid's main role in the coalition is raising funds as fast as possible.

Donations are urgently needed to continue to reach the most vulnerable survivors who have lost everything with emergency supplies such as tents to provide shelter, electricity generators and solar lamps.

Please donate now

Emergency tents in Donggala, Indonesia

The Indonesian National Board for Disaster Management (BNPB) is coordinating with related ministries, agencies and NGOs, conducting rapid impact assessment and quick emergency response.

Today, the coalition we are working with sent a team with experience in emergency and field data collection to Palu. The team will be assessing needs and gathering information, as well as providing equipment and a limited amount of essential supplies, such as tents and tarpaulins, electricity generators and solar lamps.

The impact is still unclear in the town of Donggala. Conditions in Palu and Donggala City are pitch black as electricity is still out and fuel is scarce.

The coalition are planning an initial two-week response in Palu and Donggala focusing on information gathering, essential supplies and search and rescue. Funding is urgently needed in order to plan a longer term response and will be based on the assessment of where the need is greatest.

Please donate now

Sat 29 Sep 2018:

At the moment communications are down and access is very challenging. So far, death tolls are from Palu, Central Sulawesi's capital, and there is little information from the smaller fishing town of Donggala to the north.

The ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management (AHA Centre) currently estimates that 1.5 million are "potentially affected".

Emergency tent, Donggala

ActionAid is in regular contact with our local ActionAid team in Indonesia, who are in touch with local partners as they assess the situation and scope out a possible response.

Electricity and communications are down and accessibility to the affected areas is a huge challenge, which means the full impact is not yet clear. The government and military are still trying to reach the areas at the moment.

ActionAid is coordinating with other CSOs and aiming to send people to affected areas tomorrow (Sunday 30th) to assess needs.

Friday 28 Sep 2018:

More than 380 people have been confirmed dead after a tsunami triggered by a 7.5 magnitude earthquake hit Sulawesi, Indonesia on Friday. Waves up to 3m high swept through Palu on Sulawesi island. The most affected areas are Palu, Donggala, Parigi, Moutong and Sigi. Up to 1.5 million people are potentially affected.

This is already a tragedy, but it could get much worse. With access to the affected areas difficult and communications down, the full scale of this tragedy is not yet known.

Please donate now

Dr Amiera Sawas

Senior Research and Climate Change Specialist

Climate change has increased the frequency and intensity of floods, and other natural weather-related events that we are witnessing around the world.

Find out how countries can experience both droughts and floods, and how they affect people's resilience and capacity to adapt to disasters.

Increasing global temperatures have recently led to significant, abnormal changes in weather patterns in many parts of the world.

The climate change we face now, which is largely the result of human activities, is making extreme weather events more frequent and more intense. Some of the examples that we are seeing more and more of, across the world, are erratic and heavy rainfall, floods, droughts and cyclones.

Instances of heavy rains and flooding have risen dramatically over the last decade, with some scientists finding the rise as high as 50% across the world. The European Academics Advisory Panel found that extreme rainfall events and floods are occurring four times more than in 19801.

Right now, many towns in South Yorkshire are inundated with floods, with more rain forecast to arrive. This week Venice has already seen three of the worst 10 floods in hundred years, submerging 80% of the city in water. Parts of eastern and southern Africa, that have experienced prolonged droughts since 2017, are now also facing devastating floods due to changes in global temperatures.

Experts say this is a direct result of climate crisis that was predicted since before 1990. The rising global temperatures are increasing the likelihood of storms, raising sea levels and amassing more moisture in the air which are increasing the propensity and intensity of floods.

According to the latest advice from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s coastal megacities will face economic losses 166 times more by 2050, due to climate related flooding.2

What are floods?

Floods are described as sudden onset events where normally dry land is inundated with an overflow of accumulated water that it is unable to absorb.3

There are several types of floods with differing speeds such as flash floods caused by heavy rain, river floods which are seasonal and coastal floods associated with cyclones and tsunamis. 

What causes floods?

The frequency and intensity of floods that we are witnessing globally can be caused by several factors . For example, degradation of soils and the ecosystem due to unsustainable development, makes it increasingly difficult for lands to absorb the waters from heavy rains. The combination of erratic and increasingly intense rainfall – that is increasingly difficult to plan for – with poor ongoing land management and degradation, makes certain regions and communities particularly vulnerable to flooding.4 Communities based in coastal regions are particularly at risk, because they also face the threat from sea level rise and storm surges. All of this is further exacerbated by little or poor flood planning and management.5 

Climate change has impacted floods in various ways.

As the earth warms, the air can hold 7% more water vapour for every one-degree Celsius rise in temperature. When this air rapidly cools, water vapour turns into droplets which join together to form heavy rainfall.6 

Heavy rainfall over a short period of time can cause flash floods or moderate rainfall over several days can overflow rivers or dams. Countries that have been dealing with high water levels for many years, have had the time to adapt – for example the Netherlands which has created the world’s most sophisticated flood barriers. But for countries that have not, historically, had to deal with such heavy rains, they have not adapted, making them more vulnerable to dangerous flooding.

Increasing temperatures are also melting polar ice caps which pose significant threats to coastal towns and cities. Antarctica has lost about 3 trillion tonnes of ice in the last 25 years causing global seas to rise by 8mm. In the future sea levels could rise as much as 5 meters.7

Heavy rain in Somalia and Somaliland does not solve the problem of a recurrent drought

While Somalia and parts of Somaliland are currently experiencing heavy rain, over the last three years Somaliland has experienced more periodic droughts. These droughts have occurred due to shorter rainy seasons and sporadic and unpredictable rainfall.  

In Somaliland, the recurrent droughts have dried out soils and land, killed vegetation and livestock which is severely affecting the food and livelihoods of local pastoralist and farmer communities.

Then when rain falls intensely, dry, cracked land caused by drought is unable to soak up the moisture fast enough causing it to run off.

Smaller rivers also respond quickly to rainfall and burst their banks causing localised flooding affecting people’s land, homes, and camps increasing risk of death and spread of disease.

The people of Somaliland are struggling to deal with these erratic changes in their weather. The unpredictability of the weather makes it more and more difficult for families to plan ahead and adapt to changes in the weather. The long-term impacts of the droughts have impacted people’s resilience to shocks and stresses, like the current heavy rains in some parts of the country.

How you can help

This year, we are highlighting the climate change-related hidden crises around the world — like the devastating situation in Somaliland, Bangladesh and other parts of the world. 

15-year-old Hibaq who is living in a camp for displaced people in Somaliland has had her life turned upside down by the drought in Somaliland.

Previously, we were a pastoralist family who had a lot of livestock. When we lost the livestock, we had to move from one place to another looking for a better place to live… Now I feel like I’m in prison”

Your donation of £7 a month could help us reach more women and girls with the support they need to survive.

Donate now

  • 1. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/mar/21/flooding-and-heavy-rains-rise-50-worldwide-in-a-decade-figures-show
  • 2. https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/climate-change/extreme-floods-to-increase-economic-loss-166-times-in-coastal-megacities-ipcc-66970
  • 3. http://un-spider.org/risks-and-disasters/natural-hazards/flood
  • 4. https://public.wmo.int/en/our-mandate/water/floods
  • 5. https://www.carbonbrief.org/how-much-flooding-is-in-the-uks-future-a-look-at-the-ipcc-report
  • 6. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-50407508
  • 7. https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change-sea-levels-melt-ice-rise-threat-antarctica-a8111351.html