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[pronut-hiv] Southern Africa: Helping the Most Vulnerable Households

  • From: "ProNut-HIV" <>
  • Date: Tue, 07 Apr 2009 08:02:36 -0400

Busani Bafana
7 April 2009

Johannesburg - A new tool to accurately measure the vulnerability of rural households to the impact of shocks such as the illness or death of a household member from AIDS has been developed by a Southern Africa regional policy network, the Food Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN).

The Household Vulnerability Index (HVI) is being tested by FANRPAN in conjunction with World Vision International (WVI) in order to better target the provision of food aid in WVI programmes in Lesotho, Swazilandand Zimbabwe.

Household vulnerability refers to the capacity - or lack therof - to withstand shocks which affect the food security or asset status at the household level. The HVI is used to measure vulnerability of rural households to result of external shocks such as HIV and AIDS.
Unity Chipfupa, one of the major drivers of this work, explained how the tool works.

IPS: How did this tool come about?
Unity Chipfupa: The HVI concept was developed by FARNPAN in August 2005, using a grant from the Southern Africa Development Community and the European Union. The index developed from a seven-country study coordinated by FANRPAN within the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC). The 2004 study highlighted impacts of HIV and AIDS on rural livelihoods but could not quantify their vulnerability to this shock.

Thus, the HVI was developed to answer two important questions, which are: How can the most vulnerable households be identified and assisted? How can the impact of the epidemic on household food security be monitored over time? Using a grant from the Southern Africa Trust (SAT), the HVI was further tested in Lesotho, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe.

IPS: So how does the HVI tool improve targeting of responses?
UC: The HVI improves targeting of mitigation responses in three ways; firstly, it makes it possible to classify households according to their levels of vulnerability thereby allowing better targeting of the most affected households. This is particularly important where there are limited resources available for interventions.
Secondly, the tool makes it possible to identify the source of vulnerability within numerous livelihood strategies in a household thereby paving the way for specific intervention programmes targeted at addressing these problems.
Thirdly, where a development agency has a package of specific interventions e.g. food aid, income generation or agricultural production. It is possible to use the HVI to identify the households which qualify for a defined intervention within the same community. It is also possible during implementation to then verify if a household has graduated from a given level of vulnerability and thus no longer qualifies for a particular intervention and allows graduation to alternative development aid interventions.

When HVI data is collected over time, using prescribed methods, it is possible to compare across communities and check the trends over time. This is important when tracking the effect of any interventions.

IPS: How does the HVI tool achieve this?
UC: The HVI achieves this by comparing wealth or livelihood assets that are available to a household. These include: human capital, financial capital, natural resources, social capital and physical capital.
It classifies the households according to three levels of vulnerability namely, coping level (the household is in a vulnerable situation but still able to cope), acute level (the household has been hit so hard that it badly needs assistance to the degree of an acute health care unit in a hospital) and the emergency level (the household's situation is equivalent to that of an intensive care scenario - almost a point of no return so to speak - but could be resuscitated only with the best possible expertise).

IPS: Can this tool be used in HIV prevention programmes?
UC: Yes. The tool can be used to complement the designing of HIV prevention programmes, for example, in situations where we are focusing on the administration of ARVs to people living with HIV and AIDS. So the tool can be used to design the level of food aid and other support required by individual households.

IPS: How important is the tool to development?
UC: The HVI is important for various reasons. In development work, at last we have an objective measure that can compare how different households are fairing given a particular issue.
This is critical. Not only are we able to tell who is most affected, but we do this objectively, and we even know the source of their vulnerability. We are thus able to calculate how much is required to move that household from its situation to a desired level.
The reverse is also true. If we have limited resources, it is possible to know how much our efforts will yield.
The HVI is not an imported tool. It is home-grown, and endeavours to unpack the complexities that characterize the African way of life, thereby exposing what was not possible to quantify before. It is important to note that like all other tools, its value can be derived if the tool is applied appropriately.

IPS: Where else can this tool be used?
UC: The HVI can be used in vulnerability assessments and mapping. Since the index assesses household vulnerability it is possible to assess how households are being affected by other diseases such as malaria, cholera and others. It is also possible to assess or even begin simulating how households will be affected by emerging phenomena such as climatic variability, etcetera.
The HVI can also be used in research that attempts to explore the impact of HIV and AIDS on agriculture and household food security. It is important to note that the census data that the HVI process makes available helps to make informed and timely decisions when planning and implementing relief and development programmes.

IPS: What is the relationship of this tool to HIV and AIDS?
UC: The tool was generated from a database of information which measured the impact of HIV and AIDS on livelihood assets such as human, social resources, finances, natural and physical resources. The vulnerability that was core in the collection of data was HIV and AIDS hence the strong link between the tool and HIV and AIDS.

IPS: Can local communities use or access the tool?
UC: The tool is available for use by all stakeholders including grassroots communities. A community capacity building process is being designed to ensure that the pilot communities are equipped with the necessary skills needed to use the household livelihood database in decision making.