In addition to its financial contributions, Switzerland also makes its experts available to the WFP.One such example is Marjolaine Greentree, a member of the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit and currently the main regional advisor at the UN agency. Based in Johannesburg in South Africa, she represents the WFP on a committee especially set up to combat the effects of El Niño. The Regional Inter-Agency Standing Committee (RIASCO) brings together UN organisations, NGOs and donor countries. It establishes the priorities of the humanitarian response to be pursued in the eight worst affected countries in southern Africa, one of which is Lesotho. The details of the action plans are then fleshed out by all members.
Ms Greentree, you often visit southern Africa. How would you describe the situation there?
The region is going through the worst drought in the past three decades. Forecasts indicate that 40 million people will be threatened by food insecurity during the lean season from January to May 2017. On top of a food crisis, southern Africa also has to contend with a humanitarian crisis which is having a tremendous impact on food security, agriculture, health and education. Vulnerable people’s livelihoods are being put under severe pressure.
A number of organisations are involved in the crisis response. How are they coordinated?
Coordination takes place on two levels. Let’s take the WFP as an example. It has 11 offices in southern Africa with several sub-offices in each country. The role of my team and I is to make sure that the action plans discussed on the RIASCO committee – which are adopted and applied by all WFP units in the region – are well coordinated with all of our partners. It should be pointed out that the WFP has put this crisis at the highest level of emergency on its scale. On the ground this means the deployment of substantial human, material and financial resources. As urgent action is imperative, the timeframes are extremely tight to ensure comprehensive follow-up of the actions. Effective coordination is crucial in such situations.
On the other hand, the crisis means the partnership between the various organisations must be strengthened. That is what I am doing for the WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). We have, for example, jointly developed country-specific action plans taking account of the agricultural season to prepare the people for the arrival of El Niño with its torrential rainfall, flooding and landslides and to improve the food security analysis tools.
El Niño is a recurrent climate phenomenon. What can be done to prevent these countries finding themselves in the same situation over the coming years?
The countries of southern Africa have suffered several major setbacks over recent years in relation to climate, economy and security which have hampered the region’s progress. The activities of humanitarian agencies, in cooperation with the host countries, need to strengthen the capacity of communities and systems to prepare for such events but to also cope with them by becoming more resilient.