FAO/GIEWS - Food Outlook No.5 - November 1999 p. 4

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Although there are indications that the number of undernourished people in the developing countries is on the decline, the number of countries facing food shortages world-wide, as 1999 comes to a close and the new millennium dawns, stands at 35, the highest since 1984 when a severe drought hit sub-Saharan Africa on a large scale. The major causes are war/civil strife, adverse weather and financial and economic crises, and the number of people facing food shortages of varying intensity is estimated at some 52 million. In Africa, large population groups face the spectre of famine largely on account of civil strife, while in Asia despite some improvement, millions are still affected by severe erosion of their purchasing power and access to food as a result of unprecedented financial and economic crises. Parts of Latin America, which were recovering from the devastation caused by hurricane "Mitch" last year, have seen their progress significantly slowed by excessive rains and floods in recent months. In addition, lingering effects of the El Niño/La Niña phenomena in 1997/98 compound the food supply difficulties in many parts of the world.

Since last year, there has been a shift in the regional distribution of populations affected by food supply difficulties, with the number in sub-Saharan Africa declining from around 21 million to 19 million, whilst in Asia the number has increased by 5 million to around 28.3 million, though this is partly due to a reclassification of 8 of the 12 Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) into Asia (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan). In the Near East, the worst drought in decades early this year seriously reduced food production in several countries, particularly in Afghanistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Iraq, Jordan and Syria. In contrast, despite the severe floods in Mexico early in October, the number of people facing serious food shortages in Latin America has fallen sharply this year compared to last year when a number of countries in the region were seriously affected by El Niño-related floods and droughts.

Situation by Region


The food outlook in eastern Africa gives cause for concern mainly due to adverse weather. In Somalia, a combination of insufficient rains, pest outbreaks and an escalation of civil strife has resulted in severe food shortages for an estimated 1.2 million people, with some 400 000 facing death by starvation. In Ethiopia, about 7 million people, including 2 million affected by the failure of the 1999 first season (Belg) crop, need food assistance. In Eritrea, the food situation is tight for an estimated 550 000 people affected by the war with Ethiopia. In Uganda, a prolonged drought in the western parts has caused crop failures and severely affected livestock. Civil strife in parts continues to disrupt food production. In Tanzania, serious crop failures are reported in several regions. In Kenya, significant harvest shortfalls are forecast in several parts due to drought, and worsening nutritional conditions are reported in pastoral and agro-pastoral areas. In the Sudan, despite a satisfactory food supply situation in the north, some 2.4 million people in the south still depend on emergency food assistance due to the long-running civil conflict. In Burundi and Rwanda, inadequate rainfall affected the recently harvested crops, while food production in both countries continues to be disrupted by sporadic violence. In western Africa, the food outlook in Sierra Leone continues to be unfavourable due to persistent insecurity in the rural areas. In Guinea-Bissau, a large number of people face food difficulties in the current post-conflict period. In Liberia, although the overall food situation has improved since the end of the civil conflict, shortages of food for the displaced people in the northern region are reported. In central Africa, incessant civil strife in the Democratic Republic of Congo continues to displace large numbers of the rural population, while in the Republic of Congo intensified conflict in the capital city and its environs has displaced a large number of people. In southern Africa, the food situation in Angola, is catastrophic, with rising starvation-related deaths reported from various parts. The number of people in need of emergency food assistance is estimated at over 2 million. Elsewhere in southern Africa, a tightening of the food supply situation is anticipated in Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe, following two consecutive below-average harvests.


In Asia, a major humanitarian catastrophe has rocked East Timor, following the referendum on 30 August in which the majority of East Timorese voted for independence from Indonesia. Thousands of people were killed and their property destroyed by militias opposed to independence and up to 400 000 were displaced by the violence or forcibly deported to West Timor. The Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea continues to be seriously affected by chronic food supply difficulties which stem from a combination of natural disasters (droughts and floods) since 1995 and economic constraints that have resulted in heavy reliance on large-scale international assistance. In Bangladesh, food assistance is being provided to victims of floods in July last year. In Indonesia, the effects of the 1997/98 severe economic crisis continue to be felt by large sections of the country's population. In Mongolia, dwindling domestic cereal supplies have resulted in a deterioration of the country's ability to feed its people.

In the Near East, the worst drought in decades has severely reduced food production in several countries. In Afghanistan, the 1999 cereal crop has been sharply reduced by low precipitation and an outbreak of pests, leading to a record cereal import requirement for 1999/2000. In Iraq, the drought has destroyed nearly half of the total cultivated area in 1999, while in Jordan the drought has resulted in the lowest recorded domestic cereal harvest, leaving some 180 000 small-scale herders and landless rural households in need of emergency food assistance. Similarly, the drought has severely affected crops and livestock in Syria, leaving thousands of herders in need of assistance.

Among the CIS countries in Asia, vulnerable populations in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia continue to need humanitarian assistance. In Tajikistan, the poor cereal harvest in 1999 could exacerbate the plight of the poor and increase the already large number of vulnerable people.


In Latin America and the Caribbean, food assistance is being provided to Honduras and Nicaragua affected by Hurricane "Mitch", and to Haiti and Cuba earlier affected by hurricane "Georges".


In Europe, substantial food aid programmes are continuing for needy people throughout the Balkan countries, especially in the Kosovo Province of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Particular attention is being paid to targeting remote areas which will likely become inaccessible during the winter months. In Albania, food assistance continues to be provided to the remaining Kosovar refugees and host families. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, the economy has been negatively affected by civil strife in the region, and the country is hosting a considerable number of refugees. In The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the collapse of trade with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia has led to a deterioration in economic conditions and increased vulnerability to food insecurity. In the Russian Federation, a major humanitarian crisis has developed in the North Caucasus, where military action in Chechnya has led to the displacement of some 166 000 people, mainly to neighbouring Ingushetia. The small impoverished host Republic, (pop. 300 000) is unable to cope and has appealed for international assistance to provide food, shelter, heating and medical care. Some Chechen refugees have found shelter with the local population but many are living in the open despite the cold weather and the imminent winter.

Trends in Global Food Emergencies between 1984 and 1999

Over the last 15 years, there has been a discernible shift in the causes of food emergencies. Whereas man-made disasters such as civil wars accounted for only 10 percent of total food emergencies in 1984, by 1991 the proportion had increased to almost 30 percent. By 1994 they had risen to 49 percent and by late 1999 they constituted 53 percent (see Figure 1) 1/.

In general, due to increased international awareness largely because of developments in early warning technology in slow emerging disasters (e.g. drought) and rapid information dissemination, the world is now better prepared to deal with food emergencies than it was in the 1980's. For example, the 1991/92 drought in southern Africa, which devastated the sub-region's agricultural production and resulted in unprecedented high import requirement for food, did not cause loss of life, as timely and credible early warnings were heeded by the respective national governments and the international community at large. Effective coordination among countries of the sub-region and the UN System, as well as generous response by donors, averted the potential threat of famine. As a result of the experience of the 1991/92 crisis, the impact of the 1994/95 drought emergency in southern Africa was successfully neutralized with contingency plans to assist the affected populations. Similarly, the impact of the 1997/98 severe floods and droughts associated with the El Niño/La Niña weather phenomena in several parts of the world was greatly cushioned by rapid international response. Nevertheless, it is more difficult to provide early warning of sudden natural disasters (e.g. earthquakes), as well as man-made disasters (e.g. a sudden outbreak of civil conflict), and therefore the international ability to prepare adequate contingency plans for the resulting food emergencies is more limited. This limitation has been exacerbated since the 1994/95 season, when the food aid shipments have been consistently below the World Food Conference annual minimum target of 10 million tonnes.

1/ A country is classified as facing food emergency when man-made and/or natural disasters result in exceptional shortfall in food supplies requiring external emergency food aid to cover fully or part of the deficit.

Despite some recovery in the past three seasons, the tight food aid situation largely reflects lower budgets in the donor countries and also possibly donor fatigue particularly for protracted food emergencies. It is also evident that donor response to appeals for resources needed for rapid rehabilitation of food production following disasters is increasingly diminishing, with contributions too little relative to needs. Yet, as a recent report from the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO) has concluded, "...the rehabilitation of agriculture is a central condition for development, reducing poverty, preventing environmental destruction - and for reducing violence" 1/.

In order to cope with current and future food emergencies, there is urgent need for added emphasis by the low-income food-deficit countries, particularly those emerging from food emergencies, on agricultural rehabilitation, recovery and development through increased allocation of resources to agriculture. However, for most of these countries, this will be highly constrained by the crippling international debt burden. Thus, without substantial and sustained external economic assistance, food emergencies and chronic food insecurity will continue to afflict millions of people in the foreseeable future. An important part of the international assistance will need to be channelled through programmes aimed at achieving rapid and sustainable increases in food production and agricultural productivity, such as FAO's Special Programme for Food Security for Low-Income Food-Deficit Countries.

1/ To Cultivate Peace - Agriculture in a World of Conflict, PRIO Report 1/99.
2/ Four countries are double-counted in the chart, implying simultaneous occurrence of natural and man-made disasters.

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