The story of a remarkable drought response begins with the failure of the 1991/2 rains in the areas of Zambia that supply most of that country’s maize surplus. The context of that drought was exacerbated by a recession and governmental mismanagement of the economy. Timely elections brought in a new and constructive government aiming to save Zambia from becoming a worst-case scenario. They set up the national Programme to Prevent Malnutrition (PPM) to work in partnership with major NGOs active in the country to spearhead the relief effort. At the district level NGOs coopted influential local people to work with them to establish guidelines for food distribution, mark out operating zones, review and monitor food distribution and discipline any guideline violators.

Yellow maize was imported from outside southern Africa and transported by train to local PPM/NGO networks. It was then distributed via food-for-sale or food-for-work schemes and free distribution to worst-affected families. As the programme ran in such a decentralised manner the details varied from area to area but there was, ultimately, very little loss of life. The local community decision-making was seen to be very effective for targeting beneficiaries.

Mukupo outlines the many useful lessons learnt from the Zambian programme. Some of these are: every locality has resources to use, but they must be properly coordinated; constant consultations are needed; information must be transparent; training for programme workers must be thorough and ongoing; flexibility is very valuable. It was also recognised that decisive help for the programme’s effectiveness came from the very highest levels: the president and cabinet of Zambia.


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