Southern Africa Food Crisis | Plan International Skip to main content

Southern Africa Food Crisis

Over the last 3 years persistent droughts across Southern Africa have led to 15.3 million people being severely short of food. The situation is critical, especially for adolescent girls who are among the worst affected during disasters.

Key statistics

  • 15.3 million
    people are severely lacking food
  • 3 years
    of droughts have led to the crisis
  • 11 countries
    in the region are affected


  • Why is there a food crisis in Southern Africa?

    Southern Africa is at the forefront of the global climate crisis. Over the last 36 months, the region has experienced persistent drought conditions compounded by floods and back to back cyclones – unprecedented for the region.

    This has exacerbated the economic challenges, poverty and chronic structural issues in the region and have resulted in food insecurity for most countries.

  • How many people are affected?

    With 15.3 million people severely lacking food in 11 countries the situation is critical for many. 

    Families are increasingly unable to afford to buy food, send children to school or access healthcare. If urgent humanitarian action is not taken to assist communities in desperate need, the situation will deteriorate further. 

  • How is the crisis affecting adolescent girls?

    Adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable as they face an increased risk of violence due to their age and gender. There have been reports across the region of families increasingly resorting to child marriage to cope with the crisis.

    Girls are also being pushed into child labour or resorting to transactional sex as families struggle for survival.

    Lack of access to clean water is having a huge impact. Women and adolescent girls are having to walk longer distances to fetch water and a lack of safety in many places means a heightened risk of violence. 

    Water scarcity is also posing a real challenge for managing menstrual hygiene, basic sanitation and domestic work. Increasing unaffordability of sanitary materials is leading to adolescent girls and young women resorting to alternatives that may expose them to infections.

  • How else are children affected?

    There has been an increase in acute malnutrition cases in children under 5 across Southern Africa due to the ongoing food crisis. 

    The food crisis is also having a major impact on children’s education. Children are dropping out of school because parents can’t afford to pay school fees or buy books or uniforms. Many young people are being kept home from school to look after younger siblings or are being sent out to work.

  • How is Plan International responding?

    Plan International has been responding to the food crisis in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique since September 2019.

    In Zimbabwe we are keeping children safe and in education while supporting girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights.

    In Mozambique we are running a school feeding programme so children receive the nutrition they need and can stay in school. 

    In Zambia we are distributing food in schools and communities and are helping to keep children safe.

  • What can the international community do to help?

    Plan International is calling on the international community to urgently provide new funding to enable humanitarian agencies to respond to the most life-threatening needs across the region. 

    Donors must prioritise funding for the education and protection of children – particularly adolescent girls, who are disproportionately affected by the crisis.

    In addition to meeting life-saving humanitarian needs, increased investment in building resilience of communities and creating alternative livelihoods is critical to finding a long-term solution to the crisis.

    All efforts to tackle the food crisis must consider specific needs of adolescent girls and young women besides just nutrition. Girls’ safety and wellbeing, menstrual hygiene management and education must be prioritised.