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AFRICA: Hunger Intensifying But Cash Transfers Improving Lives

Zukiswa Zimela

JOHANNESBURG, Oct 14 2010 (IPS) - Chronic hunger is intensifying in Africa, despite the world’s commitment to address this Millennium Development Goal and reduce world hunger by half by 2015.

This is according to the Regional Hunger and Vulnerability Programme (RHVP), which said on Oct. 13 that 75 percent of the world’s ultra poor, those living on living on less than 50 cents per day, are in Africa.

World hunger and the progress of various social protection programmes in Africa and across the world were part of the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) International Policy for Inclusive Growth dialogue held in Johannesburg from Oct. 11 to 13. The event brought together experts from 28 countries from Africa, Asia and Latin America for the south-south learning event on long-term social protection for inclusive growth.

Countries shared information on the different social protection programmes that they are implementing. And feedback was given by African countries on the progress they had made since March 2006 when leaders from 13 African countries met in Zambia to discuss ways of coming up with budgets to institute national protection programmes.

The Livingstone Declaration means that governments have to come up with ways to protect vulnerable populations in their countries by providing them with social protection; it also states that social security is a right.

Some governments have been reluctant to implement national social security programs on account of affordability; however, others have already started and seen significant benefits. In many cases not only have the beneficiaries used the money for their survival, but it also allowed them to improve their quality of life. For example; in Zambia and Botswana beneficiaries of cash transfer programmes also started sending their children back to school; and in Kenya children’s health was monitored.

In 2006 Chipata district in Zambia instituted the Chipata cash transfer scheme which benefits 1,101 households. Alfred Chibinga from CARE International, an organisation that works to defend the rights of the world’s poorest people, said that before the introduction of the Chipata scheme many of the poor, particularly the children, would beg on the streets to survive.

These children were too poor to attend school. They did not have enough money for food let alone the money to pay for school fees and school supplies such as uniforms, Chibinga said. But since the implementation of the programme, the benefits have been diverse.

Each household receives between 10 to 12.50 dollars per month. Those households with children of school-going age receive an extra 2.50 dollars per month for school supplies.

“With the coming of the social cash transfer we have seen an increase of these children going back to school, and their uniforms are in good condition. Some of them didn’t have uniforms and now they have uniforms and their faces look brighter,” Chibinga said.

The Chipata cash transfer programme has also raised the nutritional levels of households. Now, twelve percent more households consume proteins daily. Vulnerable families are identified by the community and are then registered to receive this grant.

Botswana’s social security program was implemented 11 years ago by the ministry of local government to benefit orphans under the age of 18. Children who are orphaned are provided with a food voucher worth 69 to 107 dollars per month.

Instead of actual food the beneficiaries are given a card that they swipe at grocery stores to get their parcels.

The country also has school feeding scheme that provides one meal per day to children in primary and secondary schools. These programs aim to minimise child malnutrition and stunting, while enhancing learning.

Papadi Nguvuava, deputy commissioner from the Botswana social benefits ministry says over the last decade these programs have had a positive impact on the number of children going to school.

“The attendance rate at the school was improved because of the feeding at school. Some children were leaving school because they didn’t have any food to eat, so they (were forced) to go and fend for themselves,” she said.

Nguavuava said that over the years, government found that orphans who were recipients of social security were no longer stigmatised. “For the orphans we have reduced stigma because now they look like all the other children.”

Kenya also gave feedback on the progress of one of its schemes. In 2004 the ministry of gender, children and social development in Kenya implemented a cash transfer for orphans and vulnerable children (OVT). Currently the beneficiaries receive 37 dollars every two months.

However, there are conditions attached to the grant. Each child up to the age of one has to attend a health facility for immunisation every two months.

Children aged between one to five years have to be taken to a health facility for growth monitoring and Vitamin A supplements every six months; while children between aged between six and 17 have to attend primary school and should not be absent for more than three days per month. This ensures that the beneficiaries are healthy and get an education.

Jacqueline Odour, the Secretary of Children Affairs at the ministry of gender, children and social development, says that currently 85,000 households are benefiting from the cash transfers.

“By the end of June next year we should cover about 122,000 households,” she said. The country has 2.4 million orphans.

Emmie Chanika from the Civil Liberties Committee in Malawi says social protection may seem expensive but it is much cheaper than having to deal with catastrophes of extreme poverty and hunger.

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