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close this bookFamine, Needs-assessment and Survival Strategies in Africa (Oxfam, 1993, 40 p.)
close this folder2 A case of crying wolf?
View the document(introduction...)
Open this folder and view contents2.1 Some distortions in the process of needs-assessment
View the document2.2 Needs-assessment in some specific countries
View the document2.3 Limited relief
View the document2.4 A real crisis in Africa

2.2 Needs-assessment in some specific countries

In relation to Sudan, the inter-agency appeals of the Special Emergency Programme for the Horn of Africa (SEPHA) give breakdowns of 'drought-affected' and 'displaced' people by region and province. In the documents I have seen, it is not made clear where these estimates come from, but FAO production estimates seem to provide the main basis for estimates of drought-affected people.

Relief needs in Darfur for 1991 were assessed by FAG at 144,000mt. This was based on a pre-harvest assessment in 1990 by the Darfur regional government's Agricultural Planning Unit (APU), which employed a 'food balance-sheet' approach. The APU reported that cereal production as a percentage of requirements varied from 0-40 per cent in different rural councils within Darfur. Oxfam field staff in Sudan reported that:

In general this assessment is considered as reliable... Although the results can only be considered as rough estimates (based on rapid assessments, key informant interviews, observations), ... (they) discriminate between rural councils and give an indication of the seriousness of the situation.

Significantly, in September 1990, NGOs, the UN, and the Sudanese Relief and Rehabilitation Commission undertook a rapid assessment in North Darfur and came up with similar conclusions to those of the APU.

It is true that the 'food balance-sheet' approach is likely to be misleading to some extent, since some areas of Darfur, particularly in the north, would not expect to produce all their own grain even in normal years. Nevertheless, given the generally limited movements of commercial grain into Darfur from the rest of Sudan, low grain production within Darfur is likely to mean high grain prices in the region and corresponding hardship (Keen, 1986). In relation to Ethiopia, SEPHA gives a more disaggregated picture of needs. It gives more regional subdivisions, and it provides estimates for each region of populations affected by failure of the last meher rains, by failure of the belg rains, numbers displaced, families of ax-soldiers, and returnees from Somalia. There are few clues about where these figures come from in the reports I have seen. However, the format and figures match those in reports of the Ethiopian government's Relief and Rehabilitation Commission, which made the assessments along with the Relief Society of Tigray (REST) and the Ethiopian Relief Organisation (ERO) in their respective areas of operation.

In Angola, devastation accompanying the civil war was exacerbated by government agricultural policies and by drought in 1989-90, which affected the southern and central provinces of the country. The drought caused sharp rises of grain prices in relation to livestock prices in some areas, and appears to have encouraged theft of crops. The UN undertook programmes of needs-assessment in co-ordination with the Angolan Government, a leading role being played by the UN Development Programme, the World Food Programm e and UNICEF. These assessments formed the basis of emergency appeals and were part of the Special Relief Programme for Angola (SRPA). However, field investigation seems to have been minimal, and much of the data appears to be extracted from rather dubious official sources.

Oxfam's country representative in Angola commented: 'Relief assessments in Angola have been minimal at best and non-existent at worst during the past few years.' Aid agencies have been discouraged from working in Angola by a political and bureaucratic climate which makes it very difficult for them to operate effectively. Government officials involved in relief assessment have often lacked the necessary experience. The war made many areas inaccessible. Angolan government assessments of needs have apparently been based on needs-assessments by provincial authorities. The assessments have often been treated with some cynicism by international donors. Government statistics on the displaced are rarely updated and are thought to be rather unreliable. There is some feeling among Oxfam staff in Angola that donors respond not only to formal assessments but also to informal contacts and impressions. The province where assessments of need were most clearly articulated was Huila province, where a number of NGOs carried out a joint assessment during the drought. The relatively clear articulation of needs in Huila appears to have been reflected in relatively large amounts of international assistance to this province, although the province has not been as severely affected by the war as some others.

In Mozambique, aid agencies and the government have evolved a way of arriving at requirements, but again few serious attempts have been made to relate needs-assessments to detailed surveys on needs at local level. Performing this kind of survey is difficult or impossible in much of Mozambique. Aid-agency staff are sceptical about the accuracy of needs-assessments. They point out that different criteria have been used in different provinces. UN and Government of Mozambique discussions with provincial officials are unlikely to give an accurate picture of needs: these officials often lack appropriate training; they often have no access to areas they are asked to assess; and again they may have an interest in inflating assessments of needs in order to attract relief to their areas. One agency worker said that the UN/government missions would visit only two or three provinces during the assessment period, clearly an inadequate basis for nationwide assessments. NGOs have also played an important role in relief assessments (for example, Oxfam in Niassa province), benefiting from access to transport and to rural areas where they are working.

Although government officials may have an interest in overestimating needs, other factors may have encouraged underestimation. For example, the need for free emergency relief is currently considered to disappear after a person has been receiving assistance for 18 months. Yet stopping free relief will not necessarily be justified at this point: the attainment of 'serf-sufficiency' will depend on favourable climatic conditions, on access to adequate labour and fertile land, and on receipt of adequate relief (including seeds and tools) before the planting season. One Oxfam report noted that:

The government had only requested the very base minimum for a displaced population of 1.5 million in 1990/91 as opposed to the several millions of displaced people.

Furthermore, while the 'displaced' (that is the recently displaced) are supposed to get 100 per cent of their food needs, the agreed ration (including only 350 grammes of maize, 40 grammes of beans and 10 grammes of oil) is actually insufficient to live on. As a December 1991 UN/Government of Mozambique report noted:

This... represents a survival ration only on the assumption that most displaced populations have access to some food resources beyond Emergency supplies, at least for part of the year.

Meanwhile, the 'affected' are supposed to get only 60 per cent of their needs. Another possible source of underestimation of needs is the fact that even the theoretical ration of 10.5kg per month is intended for households of five people. However, reports from the field say most households consist of more than five people.

Assessments of needs —in practice, and possibly also at the level of official UN/government appeals—also appear to have been affected by donor 'fatigue' and scepticism. Analysis of donor response to appeals 1987-89 shows a marked downward trend. Pledging of food aid, relief items, and logistical support fell progressively, apparently hit by stagnant emergency and development budgets in donor countries in the face of increasing numbers of emergencies in the world, and by donor scepticism about the prospects for a proper distribution in Mozambique. The security situation in the country also appears to have discouraged donors from funding rehabilitation projects. In 1987/88, 480,000mt of cereals for the market were reported to be required, and 475,800mt pledged. The following year, the total required had risen to 500,000mt, but the total pledged fell to only 335,600mt. And in 1989/90, the total required rose again to 560,400mt, and the total pledged fell to 303,600mt (only 54.1 per cent of agreed requirements). Support for logistics fell dramatically in 1989/90.

The trend for emergency food aid was different, but the shortfalls were still significant. For emergencies, the total required in 1987/88 was 410,000mt, and the total pledged 148,600mt. The next year, 230,000mt were required and 190,400mt pledged. In 1989/90, 195,000mt was required and 144,000mt pledged (74 per cent of agreed requirements). Such shortfalls have continued. In 1991/92, total requirements were put at some 263 million US dollars, of which some 109 million remained unpledged by November 1991. The logistics requirement was 26 million US dollars, but pledges totalled only 11 million. Pledges for therapeutic feeding and nutritional rehabilitation of displaced people were particularly low, in relation to agreed requirements, covering only 49 per cent of requirements for dried skimmed milk, 16 per cent for sugar and 18 per cent for oil.