March 12, 2002

Hunger deepens in southern Africa

Delivery delays, adverse weather, low production levels and high maize prices continue to contribute to rising hunger levels in southern Africa, say researchers and aid organisations.

USAID's Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) and Save the Children (UK) said in a humanitarian update published on Monday, March 11, that all mainland SADC countries except South Africa, Botswana and Swaziland were benefiting from programmes of the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN's food agency.

They said that following erratic weather conditions in 2000/2001, disruptions in the commercial farming sector and overall poor macro-economic performance, Zimbabwe was facing the worst food security conditions in over two decades. WFP and other non-governmental organisations are targeting about 900,000 people in their current aid programmes.

The food crisis has been severe in Malawi, where the government declared a national emergency at the end of February. FEWS NET said while maize production in the country was expected increase by 16 percent this year, "the crop is threatened by premature harvesting as a result of the current food security situation". People's access to the staple is further limited as local market prices rise and government outlets run out of stock rapidly. "By mid-February, Malawi had imported only 62,000 mt of the planned 150,000 mt (of maize) from South Africa. Congested transport routes are cited as the main reason for the slow delivery rate," FEWS NET said.

The government has appealed for international assistance and the WFP is hoping to start distributing food to the most needy this month when it receives stocks for a new emergency operation. Other international aid agencies as well as the European Union are considering their response to the

Malawi government's appeal for aid. "The situation is even more critical than last year, when there was only flooding in some pockets of the country. Now the problem is more generalised and more people are affected. There has also been a minimal level of assistance to the affected," this week the government's declaration of a national emergency added.

Some of Malawi's neighbours are also facing severe food shortages. Sapa on Monday quoted Lesotho's opposition Basotho National Party (BNP) leader as saying that the tiny kingdom was on the verge of starvation. According to the report, Major-General Metsing Lekhanya said people were already starving in the mountainous areas because of last season's failed maize staple crop. FEWS NET said some 7,000 poor households affected by adverse rainfall began receiving food aid in mid-January. Distributions are set to continue until May, when the next harvests are due.

In Mozambique, the government's National Disasters Management Institute said on Monday that more than half-a-million people in the southern and central regions could face food shortages in the next few months. "We have serious indications of drought, and that is why an assessment is being made from the agro-meteorological point of view," institute director Silvano Langa was quoted as saying in the daily Noticias newspaper. He said at least 100,000 hectares of assorted crops, mostly maize, had been lost to drought in the first planting season. FEWS NET said some 170,000 Mozambicans seriously affected by flooding during the last two seasons continued to receive emergency food and other support, although the WFP has warned of a funding shortfall. (IRIN)

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