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Making the invisible visible: how was famine averted in southern Africa? (PLA 66)

Christopher Eldridge

Chapter of book

The 1992 southern African drought was the region’s worst drought in living memory. By the time the drought ended, famine had been averted – but how? In the second article in Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) 66, Christopher Eldridge describes how he and the late Saiti Makuku investigated the responses of low-income rural people to the drought.

While travelling in Zimbabwe, the author realised that villagers were already responding to the drought in various ways, long before significant quantities of relief food began to arrive. However, their activities went largely unrecognised, partly because they were many, small and varied and so were not supported during the relief effort. The study used a modified form of scoring, within a livelihoods framework, which revealed how famine
was averted largely by the activities of those whom the drought most severely affected.

Although the drought happened over 20 years ago, there are lessons that we can learn today from this experience.

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