Press Release 97/19

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Press Release 97/19


NAIROBI, May -- The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today called the situation in the Great Lakes Region one of “serious concern,” adding that the food and humanitarian situation of Rwandan refugees in eastern Zaire is particularly serious, with large numbers dying of starvation and disease, while tens of thousands are severely malnourished and in very poor health. The warning came in the FAO quarterly report, Food Supply Situation and Crop Prospects in Sub-Saharan Africa, which said that with large-scale repatriation of refugees underway, continued donor support is needed to alleviate further human suffering and loss of life.

According to the report, seventeen sub-Saharan African countries are experiencing food shortages and emergencies, despite good 1996 harvests in several parts of the continent. It cites continuing civil strife, droughts, floods, plant pests and diseases as the main causes for the continuing food supply difficulties.

In Burundi, despite the recent relaxation of the economic embargo, the food supply situation is reported to be tight following a poor 1997 first season harvest and continuing civil strife. In Rwanda, the huge number of returning refugees and the marked deterioration of the security situation in areas bordering Zaire have aggravated an already precarious food supply situation in the country.

In eastern Africa, the report cites severe drought and floods in recent months as the leading causes of the food supply problems affecting over 3 million people in large parts of Kenya, Tanzania, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan and Uganda. In Kenya, the food situation is especially critical in the pastoral north-eastern province and the marginally agricultural eastern Province as a result of the recent drought. Large parts of northern Tanzania, eastern and south-eastern Ethiopia, southern Somalia and eastern Uganda were also seriously affected by the drought. The report says that insecurity and civil strife continue to disrupt food production in northern Uganda and southern Sudan.

According to the report, the food supply situation remains precarious in Liberia and Sierra Leone despite some recovery in production. It says there is a continuing need for food assistance. Other countries the report cites as facing food supply difficulties of varying intensity are Angola, Chad, Mozambique, Mauritania, and Niger.
The report notes that, even though the aggregate food aid needs of sub-Saharan Africa in 1997 are expected to be about 20 percent lower than 1996, they remain high, estimated at about 1.9 million tons. The decline is attributed to good harvests in western Africa and parts of the Horn in 1996, as well as the favourable harvest outlook for southern Africa.

Abdur Rashid, Chief of FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System, which published the report, warned that “the global food aid availability which in recent years has been on a downward trend is unlikely to improve in the coming years, and in view of sub-Saharan Africa's low commercial import capacity, caused by balance of payments problems, low-income food-deficit countries in the region will need to take urgent action to step up their food production if they are to safeguard food security of their populations.”

The report calls for the international community to focus on four priority areas requiring assistance. First, all possible efforts should be made to alleviate the extreme suffering of Rwandan refugees in eastern Zaire. Second, in eastern Africa, where the food supply situation is already precarious, adequate contingency planning is needed to avert a possible disaster should the main rains, now in progress, turn out to be insufficient for normal food production. Third, emergency assistance continues to be needed in Burundi, Rwanda, Liberia and Sierra Leone and fourth, donor support for FAO's Special Programme for Food Security is needed, particularly in Africa. This will enable the low-income food deficit countries in the region to improve their food security by increasing and stabilizing their food production.

Copies of the report are available at the FAO Nairobi office:
Tel: 725128/725440

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