The food and humanitarian situation in eastern Zaire is grave. Rwandan refugees are dying of starvation and disease in large numbers, while tens of thousands are severely malnourished and in very poor health. The planned large-scale repatriation of the estimated 80 000 refugees by relief agencies has run into serious difficulties due to cholera outbreaks, delays in securing necessary clearances and the looting of relief food supplies by the local population. Those refugees who had settled in camps near Kisangani were recently forced to flee and are now wandering in forests where they are mostly inaccessible. On 27 April 1997 the rebel authorities gave relief agencies 60 days in which to repatriate all the refugees back to Rwanda. This deadline may be too tight given the lack of contact with the refugees that have fled and logistic constraints. Elsewhere in the Great Lakes Region, the outlook for food security is uncertain. In Burundi, despite the optimism caused by the recent partial relaxation of the economic embargo, the political and security situation remains extremely volatile with fighting and violence in several parts. In Rwanda, food production is still below the pre-strife level and some 2.6 million people, one-third of the population, continue to need food assistance until households become self-reliant.
The outlook for food supplies in eastern Africa is uncertain, following poor harvests in several parts due to drought. In Kenya, the food supply situation is critical in Eastern and North-eastern provinces which were the worst affected, and in parts of Central, Coast and Rift Valley provinces. The drought followed two consecutive poor seasons in most of these areas, thus worsening an already precarious food security situation. In Tanzania, the worst affected areas were the bi-modal rainfall northern, north-eastern and coastal areas and the islands of Pemba and Zanzibar. In the uni-modal rainfall central, southern and south-western areas, the erratic behaviour of the rains during the current season gives cause for concern. In Uganda, serious food supply difficulties are being faced in the drought-affected eastern and north-eastern districts, and in the northern districts affected by civil strife. Large parts of eastern and south-eastern Ethiopia and the southern parts of Somalia were also seriously affected by the drought. Given this precarious overall food supply situation, adequate rains during the current season will be crucial for improved food security in the sub-region.
Some Sahelian countries face localized food supply difficulties, while Liberia and Sierra Leone continue to need food assistance. In Chad, a below-average cereal harvest was gathered in 1996 and the food supply situation is tightening, especially in the Sahelian zone where cereal prices are now much higher than in recent years. At the same time, the national cereal reserve stock is completely exhausted. In Mauritania, food supply difficulties are being experienced in some rainfed production areas which had a poor harvest in 1996, while in Niger certain regions which gathered poor crops last season are facing food shortages although the overall national food supply position is satisfactory. In Liberia and Sierra Leone, the food supply situation remains difficult and the countries continue to require emergency food assistance.
A good harvest is in prospect in southern Africa. Rains have been generally abundant, even excessive in parts resulting in flooding along river valleys. Also, the threat of red locust attack posed earlier in the season was effectively contained. However, the relatively late start of the rains in several areas and dry spells during the season, as well as waterlogging may trim an otherwise bumper maize crop in South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Food aid needs of sub-Saharan Africa in 1997 are expected to be lower than last year, reflecting generally satisfactory harvests in western Africa and parts of the Horn, and a favourable outlook in southern Africa. However, they will remain high, currently estimated at 1.9 million tons. While food aid pledges amounted to 1.5 million tons by mid-April, only 0.8 million had been delivered so far. Thus further pledges and speedier deliveries are needed. However, while emergency food aid will continue to be necessary, sub-Saharan African countries need to take urgent action to step up their food production to safeguard the long-term food security of their populations.