It is very nice to be here.
Concern started working in Zambia in late 2002 as a result of a drought there at the time. With Zambia being a country ranked in the bottom 40 on the human development index, our mandate would have been to stay there and continue the work after the initial emergency was over, and that is what we have done. Our poverty analysis at that time suggested we should focus our energies on the western province which the ambassador, Mr. Cotter, recently visited. It is the poorest province in Zambia with very poor infrastructure, a lack of investment and very little road infrastructure. We found that the two sectors of critical importance were HIV and AIDS and livelihood security, food security in particular, and that those were the ones on which we should focus. We did that analysis in 2002 and our analysis now is not much different from our original analysis in terms of the continued need to focus on those two sectors.
We have also explored in the past year the possibility of working in some of the urban settlements in the Lusaka. As members will be aware, urbanisation is becoming a huge issue in most African countries and there are quite substantial poverty issues in urban areas.
I can report on the work we have been doing in the western province for the past few years. We currently have a working budget of approximately €2 billion, 48% of which comes from Irish Aid funding. We work with a range of civil society partners, local partners from Zambia and government partners. We work very closely with the Zambian Government in its various ministries at local level in particular. We have a very strong working relationship with the Irish Aid delegation in Lusaka, whom we meet regularly. We have regular meetings to exchange views and ascertain where there are synergies and areas for sharing, learning and collaboration. One such area, which we have spoken about recently, is that of social protection, the social welfare arena, in which Irish Aid and Concern are very interested.
The issues with which Zambians have to cope have multiplied over time. Our analysis is that poverty has very much a feminine face. It is very much women who are more deeply affected by the level of poverty in the country. This trend is likely to continue due to the impact of HIV, the existing position of women which is of a very unequal nature, and some very unfavourable Government policies. Zambia has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world with 1.5 million people living with HIV and more than 1.2 million orphans. In addition to that, on the food security side, 51% of the population cannot meet their food needs on a daily basis. They would have food for part of the year but not all year round. Some 48% of the children in Zambia suffer from stunting as a result of long-term chronic malnutrition. This is not as a result of going without one meal every now and again but due to going without good nutrition on an ongoing basis over a sustained period. Some 48% of the children in Zambia are suffering from stunting, which affects their brain and reproductive development etc and has long-term implications for the health of the nation.
Recognising this and the extreme vulnerability of people even in good years — for instance, the death of a breadwinner in a household as a result of HIV can have a huge impact on a family, as can a short drought in that a family can lose the small crop it may have — Concern is supporting the Zambian Government, through local partners, to put in place basic social safety nets for these poorest families. These people have no other means of living. Concern's support for the implementation of the national social protection policy involves piloting some social cash transfers in three of the districts in which we work, which has so far provided 2,000 households with small livestock which, we hope, will provide evidence down the line, in particular to the government, of how very small inputs can make a significant difference to the lives of people and prevent people falling into negative coping strategies, like having to sell off all their assets or engage in very risky practices such as transactional sex in order to survive. We are also designing an expanded social assistance programme which, if funded, will support social pensions and provide vocational training to some of the poorest households in the districts and hopefully will reach more than 5,000 people in the first instance. Concern Worldwide, DFID, the International Labour Organisation, Irish Aid, UNICEF and the World Bank have been assisting in conducting research and sharing learning as members of the Technical Working Group on Social Assistance.
Some aspects of Zambia's agriculture and food security have progressed very significantly and in some years have had quite a food surplus, but the issue for us because we are focused on extreme poverty is the problem of access to food for low-income families. With the food crisis in 2008, food prices shot up quite considerably and poor households simply do not have the additional income to be able to access that food.
The lack of adequate access to agriculture support services, poor road infrastructure, poor marketing facilities and a lack of trained agriculture extension workers, are some of the greatest challenges facing the Zambian agriculture sector. That sector is currently managing with only 50% of the trained staff it needs to roll out agricultural policies. Concern advocates that the Zambian ministry of agriculture implement its national development plans to try to address these challenges, and implement the Maputo declaration under which governments signed up to spend 10% of their budgets on agriculture.
Concern's livelihoods programme is very much in line with the recommendations of the Government's hunger task-force report, focusing on increasing the productivity of small-holder farmers, as well as recognising the key role that women play in agriculture.
I have supplied the committee with copies of a case study undertaken last year by Concern, entitled Unheard Voices — Women Marginal Farmers Speak Out. That report is a small snapshot of the situation facing women in Western Province, particularly women marginal farmers who make up a large percentage of the agricultural community there. They are not able to access government services and do not benefit from inputs, subsidies, training or extension services. For one reason or another, they are excluded from those. In undertaking this case study, we tried to highlight to donors, the government and our own partners, that these are the people who put food on the table for families in Western Province. We need to work with them to improve household food security.
Earlier today, we launched an initiative with Accenture who will fund some of our new work in Western Province around conservation farming. We hope to introduce conservation farming as a methodology to increase yields significantly for marginal farmers, including women. I hope this initiative will substantially change the lives of about 3,500 families in Western Province in the first instance. I hope it will also have a much more significant long-term effect if we can convince the government of the benefit of such an approach. In the long-term, we hope the Zambian Government will advocate this approach as well.
Another aspect impacting on the security of people's livelihoods in Zambia concerns the effects of climate change. We have already seen alternate drought and floods, with rain coming earlier than predicted. In some places the rains last too long, or not long enough in others. Zambia is among the top 12 countries in the world likely to be severely affected by climate change in the coming years. It is predicted that climatic change will have a significantly negative effect on small-scale farmers who are least able to deal with the impact of having to change their ways of working very quickly. Therefore we are working with these communities to develop their capacity to examine risks and see how they can possibly mitigate them.
A practical example of that concerns the long history of canals in Western Province. Thousands of kilometres of canals have provided drainage and irrigation in the fertile plains. Over the years, however, the canals became clogged and overgrown, but nobody repaired them. Over the past year, along with the Barotse royal establishment, which is the power in the area, Concern has helped local communities to clear 1,200 km of canals. This has opened up extensive additional tracts of land for farming. It has also provided drainage during flash flooding, thus providing better protection.
We have embarked upon another initiative involving a partnership with a micro-finance institution, Agora Micro-Finance Zambia, which has recently been registered in Lusaka. The idea is that Concern representatives will sit on the board of this institution. Our role and rationale for being involved in this company is to ensure that it is pro-poor, and will target the most vulnerable people. It will provide small grants to families to enable them to take initiatives on board and deal with difficulties in their lives.
The issue of HIV-Aids is central to what is going on in Zambia at the moment. It is a big factor in Zambia's achievement of many of its millennium development goals, as it impacts across the spectrum in every sector. It leads to enormous financial deprivation for families who are impacted either directly or indirectly by this pandemic. We have already heard about the prevalence rates. In general, the prevalence rate in Zambia has come down slightly in recent years. However, Western Province is one of the only provinces where the prevalence rate has, unfortunately, increased by 2% or 3% in the past year to two. We are still investigating some of the reasons around that increase, but we know it is linked to deep-rooted cultural norms and harmful traditional practices, including wife inheritance and such like. There is also a huge migration from the area, with men having to move elsewhere to find work.
We are responding to this pandemic in several ways, including prevention work. Prevention is still a hugely important aspect of the HIV-Aids issue, as are care and support for communities that are infected and which require services. Concern supports the national Aids council and a number of civil society organisations in Western Province to provide services so that people may live positively with the virus and promoting behavioural change among young people in particular to try to prevent the further spread of the virus. It is also about changing attitudes of opinion formers, traditional authorities and community leaders to look at things differently and improve the situation.
Concern's analysis of vulnerability closely links poverty with HIV. I am sure members of the committee have often heard that the burden brought about by HIV is diverse, covering a huge social and economic spectrum. Observations indicate that there is deepening poverty in households affected by HIV. There is no question about that. The need to address economic vulnerability as a core strategy to address HIV, while at the same time addressing issues of gender inequality, harmful traditional and cultural beliefs and practices including gender-based violence — as Ambassador Cotter also mentioned — is of the utmost importance. This must happen simultaneously with our examination of the economic issues.
There has undoubtedly been significant progress in recent years with 50% of people in need of anti-retroviral therapy now receiving it, compared to only 30% in 2006. Approximately 40% of pregnant women benefited from prevention of mother-to-child transmission services. Nonetheless, in the remoter areas such as the parts of Western Province where Concern works, it is still a major challenge to get coverage of such services. Such services either do not exist, or clinics are very far away from where people live. It may take people more than a day to walk to a clinic. That said, 50% of those who need anti-retroviral therapy are not currently receiving it. We are only half way there but there is a big emphasis on that problem and progress has been made in that respect.
Unfortunately, only 15% of Zambians have presented themselves for HIV testing and counselling. Therefore, only 15% of the population know their status. There are significant human resource constraints at all levels of the system, in absolute numbers of people involved and the capacity to implement change. Challenges persist in the co-ordination and management of HIV prevention activities, to name but a few. Concern is working with these partners to try to improve co-ordination, as well as spending a great deal of time advocating increased access to services, particularly in remote areas. One way of providing services in such remote areas is by using mobile clinics.
The emergence of a much more vibrant civil society in Zambia in recent years, has prompted the government to enact legislation to regulate the conduct of NGOs. Although the Government's argument is that it wants to see sanity in the NGO sector, the move has largely been interpreted as aimed at those NGOs that might challenge government excesses. It is too early to see how this Act will be implemented and if it will be used to control the freedom of civil society organisations. We hope it will not be.
In terms of influencing development agendas, civil society has been engaged with the government and donors. We sit on a number of sectoral advisory groups which seek to influence policy formulation and implementation. We have been involved in putting in position papers for the sixth national development plan which is being formulated currently. Concern has been involved in two such sectoral thematic papers, one on social protection and one on food security and agriculture.
The country is currently embroiled in a heated debate on the formulation of a new national constitution which is expected to govern the 2011 general elections. Recently, the body formulating the proposed new constitution turned down enshrining the right to food, water and shelter as basic rights arguing that it would be an expensive venture. For us, continuing to build the capacity of civil society in the country is of paramount importance to ensure it can continue to lobby the Government, hold it to account and ensure these rights are enshrined in the constitution and upheld, if they are so enshrined.
Concern hopes to expand its programme in 2010. There is a huge amount to be done. We want to continue to focus on building capacity at local government level and in the civil society organisations for which we work, to address the needs of the most vulnerable, with a particular focus on HIV prevention, to enhance the livelihood of the poor and to provide strong evidence of the value and effectiveness social protection measures can bring.