WHO SADC call to action on food security in the SADC region We, the SADC Health Ministers gathered at Roodevallei, Pretoria, on 30 August 2002 deliberated over the severe famine facing the SADC region. The current famine was reviewed in the context of the World Summit on Sustainable Development taking place in Johannesburg on 26 August –4 September 2002. Ministers noted that the Summit is committed to reinvigorating global commitment to sustainable development and the implementation of Agenda 21. In particular Ministers noted that some of the tenets of Agenda 21 included combating poverty, protection and promotion of human health and creation of conducive conditions for sustainable agriculture and rural development (SARD) with the objective of increasing sustainable food production and enhancing food security. The famine was also assessed in the context of the Millennium Development Goals that aim to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, reduce child mortality, combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability and develop a global partnership for development. Ministers noted that, despite all these international commitments and targets, the region was faced by the spectre of hunger, with at least 13 million people in need of food aid in Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe, while Angola is recovering from war and is thus equally vulnerable. Most of those affected are women and children. In the six countries rapid needs assessments reveal, inter alia, severe malnutrition rates in young children, reflecting both long-term dietary insufficiency and, in some countries, the acute effects of the current famine. We, the SADC Health Ministers further recognize that the famine is super-imposed on an already severe HIV/AIDS pandemic in the region. Both the famine and HIV will lead to deeper impoverishment of the people of the region, and further compound the magnitude of premature death of vulnerable groups namely children and women, from diseases aggravated by poverty like HIV/AIDS and malnutrition, such as malaria, TB and diarrhoeal diseases. Notwithstanding the effect of the famine on productivity, combined with the HIV/AIDS pandemic household food security through reduced productivity is further compromised and an additional burden placed on already overstretched health systems. We, the Ministers, recognise the current severe shortfall in food production and food availability in the region, with a cereal deficit of 4,071,300 metric tonnes (MTs) in the region. We also recognise the complex causes of the famine but identify the high levels of poverty in the region as a key factor underlying the current disaster. In the countries affected by the famine, between 1996 and 2001, the number of people living below the poverty line has stayed the same or increased, with on average 68% of the population living below the poverty line in 2001. We further recognise that poor people are most vulnerable to any adverse events. We note with great concern, the environmental and agricultural factors as a cause of the drought and famine in Africa, with an estimated 500 million hectares affected by soil degradation since 1950, including as much as 65% of agricultural land. A combination of inequitable distribution of land, poor farming methods and unfavourable land tenure and ownership systems have led to the decline in productivity of grazing land, falling crops and diminishing returns from water supplied. Nearly two- thirds of Africa is semi -arid, and Southern Africa is one of the sub regions that is most affected. This dryness makes the land vulnerable to degradation. Economic factors contribute significantly to this situation. High debt burdens and unequal trade have undermined effective responses by Southern African countries. In particular, greatly increased subsidies to U.S. and European farmers threaten the viability of farming in the region. Ministers recognise and appreciate the work already done by the World Food Programme, the lead UN agency for the Southern Africa emergency, in providing humanitarian assistance in the form of food aid. Ministers also welcome the WHO response to the famine in the form of the regional meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe, on 26 –28 August 2002 on Health Responses to the Southern African Famine. Health Ministers commit themselves to: • Promoting community-based nutrition programmes, incorporating food provision, which is based where possible, on culturally acceptable and locally cultivable products, using currently available structures in the health, welfare, education, and NGO sectors, • Improving immunisation of children, • Expand access to oral rehydration therapy, • Spearheading intersectoral initiatives by SADC governments, especially with the agriculture, education, water and sanitation and welfare sectors. Ministers also called on SADC governments to: • Identify the different resources and skills that member states can provide and to use these to coordinate the SADC response to the famine, • Take relevant steps to initiate actions to improve household food security, including the promotion of innovative agricultural methods • Where possible provide social security nets for those that are vulnerable, • Accelerate regional interventions aimed at reducing micronutrient malnutrition through fortification of staple foods with Vitamin A and, where indicated, iron. • Accelerate improved provision of safe water supplies. Ministers called on the international community to: - Accelerate emergency relief in the form of acceptable, nutritious foodstuffs, - Take steps to cancel the debt of affected countries, - Promote fairer trade and market access for developing countries, and in particular those affected by the famine, and - Comply with implementation of agreed commitments for sustainable development.