Although the British government recently announced that it was cutting its aid budget (because of financial stress imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic), the UK announced on Tuesday that the country would provide £7-million (more than R140-million) to support essential services and food assistance to people in Lesotho and other Southern Africa countries.

The countries covered by the funding, apart from Lesotho, are eSwatini, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. The money will be used to fund two initiatives, covering different countries in the region.

The intent is to aid families and communities suffering from loss of income as a result of the pandemic and the consequent national lockdowns across the region. As many as 18-million people in Southern Africa are currently at risk of suffering hunger. Of the new British aid, £6.5-million will form an emergency fund.

This will be used to contribute to a joint programme with the United Nations Children’s Fund (better known as UNICEF), the International Organisation for Migration and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

This joint programme is aimed at communities in eSwatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Namibia and South Africa which have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. It will provide hygiene, sanitation and water services to 184 000 people, plus food security assistance to nearly 14 000 households and more than 13 000 migrants.

Not least, it will provide protection measures against gender-based violence, including mental health care, for 24 000 women and children, and, in addition, support for almost 500 000 migrants.

“For many communities across Southern Africa, the Covid-19 pandemic is not only a health emergency – it is also damaging livelihoods and exacerbating food shortages,” highlighted UK Minister for Africa (equivalent to Deputy Minister in South Africa) James Duddridge.

“The support the UK is providing will help families in crisis across Southern Africa – many of whom are female-led households – improving access to Covid-19 information and basic services, and protecting livelihoods.”

Many low-income families across the region are dependent on remittances sent home by relatives living and working in South Africa. There could be as many as 3.7-million migrants living in South Africa, sending home to their families a total of R21.9-billion a year. This income stream has been severely disrupted by the effects of the pandemic.

Non-profit organisation the FinMark Trust has set up a new fund to provide relief to more than 8 000 families in eSwatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. The fund will be anchored with £500 000 in UK funding, to be provided in two tranches, and will pay an average of £15 (a little over R300) a month to the families concerned, to replace lost and essential remittance income.

(The FinMark Trust currently also receives 61 percent of its financing from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.)

“Families across Southern Africa rely heavily on remittances from their loved ones,” pointed out FinMark Trust CEO Brendan Pearce. “Amongst these families, the economic fallout of Covid-19 has hit the vulnerable particularly hard, especially women and children.

The Southern Africa Covid-19 Remittance Relief Fund has been established to bring much-needed support to these communities. We are working in partnership with financial service providers across the region to make sure that this money reaches those most in need as quickly as possible.”

“Remittances represent a vital source of support for communities in the region, and Covid-19 has underscored South Africa’s role in sustaining them,” noted UK High Commissioner to South Africa Nigel Casey.

“This fund will help families afford essentials like food and housing during an incredibly difficult time, and represents an example of what can be achieved through creative thinking and partnership, the like of which the UK is proud to support.” NW

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