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Press Release 99/48


Rome, 9 August -- Nearly 10 million people in sub-Saharan Africa need emergency food assistance, according to a report released today by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). In Somalia alone, "one million people are facing serious food shortages, with over 400,000 at risk of starvation."

The report, Food Supply Situation and Crop Prospects in Sub-Saharan Africa, says the food outlook in Somalia for 1999 and beyond is "extremely grim, due to the cumulative effects of adverse weather, the long running civil war and uncontrolled crop pests and diseases." The current main season cereal crop has failed due to erratic and insufficient rainfall, armyworm outbreaks and unusually high temperatures. It is the seventh consecutive poor harvest since 1996, says the report.

In Ethiopia, the report estimates that more than 5 million people need emergency food aid, including 385,000 people displaced by the ongoing war with Eritrea. The magnitude of food shortages has increased in Ethiopia because the 1999 "Belg" season crop has failed due to inadequate rainfall.

Though Eritrea had a good harvest in 1998, the report calls the food situation there "very tight for families displaced by the war" as well as for deportees from Ethiopia. Across the border in southern Sudan, despite favourable growing conditions, the food situation continues to be difficult due to persistent civil conflict.

"Elsewhere in eastern Africa," the UN agency report says, "a prolonged drought has affected crop production and livestock in the western part of Uganda. Large numbers of farmers, particularly cattle producers, are reported to be in need of urgent assistance. Thousands are reported to have moved to northern Tanzania in search of water and pasture."

Kenya is reportedly facing crop and livestock production difficulties because of erratic and below-average rainfall during the current "long rains" season, while Tanzania has sustained serious localized crop failure in several regions, indicating a significant and unforeseen increase in import requirements.

The FAO report calls the food outlook for Angola "very bleak," reflecting the escalating civil war. It says there is large-scale population displacement in rural areas, with people abandoning their farms and homes to take refuge in government-held towns and cities or in neighbouring countries."

One million new internally displaced people (IDPs) in Angola are said to be in need of emergency food aid even though the country received average to above average rainfall and overall planting was near normal. However, yields were significantly reduced in many areas because people abandoned their fields for the relative safety of the towns and cities, many of which are cut off from the rest of the country by road closures caused by land mines and other security problems. Because of this, the report says that distributing relief assistance is "problematic" adding, it has to be mainly by costly air transport.

According to Mr. Mwita Rukandema, senior economist in FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System on Food and Agriculture and the editor of the report, "If the stranglehold on cities and towns by UNITA continues, mass starvation of IDPs, particularly children, is almost inevitable."

In other parts of southern Africa, the report says, a tightening of the food supply situation is anticipated in countries where a reduced 1999 cereal crop was harvested. In South Africa, estimated cereal production is even below last year's below-average crop. As a result, the country's exportable surplus has been substantially reduced. In Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe, cereal output is below average for the second consecutive year.

The Great Lakes region continues to face food supply problems caused by "persistent insecurity and sporadic violence."

The report says there are hopes for an improved food supply situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) following the cease-fire agreement signed on 10 July in Lusaka, Zambia. It puts the number of (IDPs) in the DRC at 660,000, mainly in Kivu and Katanga provinces.

In Congo, renewed fighting between Government forces and Ninja militia has displaced large numbers of people and disrupted economic activities, seriously affecting the food supply situation, according to the report.

Burundi and Rwanda have suffered inadequate rainfall and an infestation of armyworms in some areas that affected the recently harvested 1999 B-season crops. The report also says that insecurity in parts of both countries has disrupted food production activities.

On the positive side, according to the report, crop prospects are generally favourable so far in most of western Africa, notably in the Sahel. The food supply situation is forecast to remain satisfactory until the next harvest, except in Sierra Leone. Implementation of a peace accord signed recently should improve the situation, the report adds.

Altogether, the report lists 16 countries* in Africa as "facing exceptional food emergencies." The causes are varied, including population displacement, civil strife, unfavourable weather, poor harvests and localized food deficits.

*Countries facing exceptional food emergencies are:

Country                                Reasons for emergency

Angola                                      Civil strife, population displacement
Burundi                                     Civil strife and insecurity
Congo, Dem.Rep of                  Civil strife
Congo                                       Civil strife
Eritrea                                       IDPs and returnees
Ethiopia                                     Drought, large number of vulnerable people, IDPs
Guinea-Bissau                           Civil strife, population displacements
Kenya                                       Weather adversities in parts
Liberia                                       Impact of past civil disturbances, shortage of farm inputs
Mauritania                                  Localized deficits
Rwanda                                     Insecurity in parts
Sierra Leone                             Civil strife, population displacement
Somalia                                     Drought, civil strife
Sudan                                       Civil strife in the south
Tanzania                                    Food deficits in several regions
Uganda                                     Civil strife in parts, drought


The complete report, "FOOD SUPPLY SITUATION AND CROP PROSPECTS IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA" produced by FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System will be available shortly on the World Wide Web through FAO's Home Page:, click on Economics, next click on GIEWS Early Warning, then click on Food supply situation and crop prospects in sub-Saharan Africa.

For information contact: John Riddle, Media Officer at telephone number:
(39) 06 57 05 32 59, or e-mail -

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