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New York, October 27, 2000 -- A strategy to combat chronic hunger in the Horn of Africa was unveiled today in a report presented by Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), at a meeting of the UN Administrative Committee on Coordination. The heads of some 26 UN organizations attended the meeting at UN Headquarters in New York. According to the report, "45 percent of the total population in the Horn of Africa, some 70 million people, live in a state of chronic food insecurity," quite apart from the 19 million or so who currently find themselves threatened by famine.

The report, The Elimination of food insecurity in the Horn of Africa - A strategy for concerted government and UN agency action, is the first step in an effort to break the region's cyclical bouts of hunger and famine. It was commissioned in April by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, when he established an Inter-Agency Task Force to investigate the root causes of chronic food insecurity in the Horn of Africa. The Task Force, chaired by FAO's Director-General, was also charged with developing a long-term strategy to combat the region's food security and agricultural development problems. In developing its strategy, the task force consulted with governments, non-government organizations and other civil society institutions, donors and UN agencies.

The report says: "Drought and conflict are the main factors contributing to vulnerability to extreme food insecurity. Apart from the southern areas of Uganda and Kenya, the highlands of Ethiopia and parts of equatorial Sudan, most of the region has low and unreliable rainfall." Almost 70 percent of the total land area is classed as hyper-arid, arid or semi-arid.

According to the report, the natural resource base has "declined as a result of land degradation and urban encroachment on arable land. To the extent that there has been any increase in the area of land being farmed, this has taken place largely in marginal areas, using systems that may not be sustainable." In addition, only 1 percent of the cultivable land in the region is currently irrigated.

However, the report adds, "While drought and other natural disasters, such as floods, locusts or contagious human and livestock diseases can predispose people to food insecurity they need not necessarily lead to large-scale undernourishment." That, the report blames on failure to ensure access by all people at all times to sufficient food as the root cause for undernourishment. It also blames widespread regional and local conflict for triggering food insecurity, saying it drives people from their homes and disrupts marketing and distribution systems. The report warns: "Governments are using scarce resources on arms and, in 1997, the countries of the region devoted US$2 billion to the military. This discourages donors, who are prepared to support people in need but want to avoid indirectly financing warfare."

The report contends that through the combined efforts of the people of the region, the concerned governments and the UN system, "it should be possible to eliminate famine and bring about significant reductions in all manifestations of food insecurity."

The strategy for action recommends that a Country Food Security Programme be developed by each of the seven countries in the Horn of Africa by mid 2001 as well as a complementary Regional Food Security Programme. It would follow these with a high-level regional conference where governments would be expected to commit themselves to the elimination of famine and food insecurity, while UN agencies, donors and NGOs could pledge their support. The programmes would seek to increase investment in the region, reversing many years of declining development assistance.

The report warns that the elimination of food insecurity is a long-term undertaking and the recommended Country Food Security Programmes would have a horizon of at least ten years. "The submission of the Task Force report marks the beginning of the process."

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For further information, please call:

Regional Information Officer Michael Hage on cellular telephone number 1 (703) 862-6075

The report is available on the Internet at:

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