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Famine threatens 4 million people in southern Africa

Nearly 4 million people in southern Africa will need emergency food assistance this year, according to a special report issued by FAO and the World Food Programme (WFP). Reduced 2001 cereal harvests, caused by adverse weather and reduced planting, are largely to blame for the food shortages. Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe are hardest hit due to extremely low maize stocks, high prices and delayed delivery of purchased maize.

In Malawi, the report notes that the 2001 maize harvest declined by one third from the bumper harvest of the previous year. Nearly 650 000 people seriously affected by floods suffered crop losses, necessitating maize imports for 2001/02 of 20 000 tonnes. WFP has already distributed 9 000 tonnes of food aid in flood-affected areas. The Government placed orders in October 2001 for 150 000 tonnes of maize from South Africa. By late January, however, only 60 000 had entered the country, and delays are expected to worsen due to continued flooding.

In Zambia, the 2001 maize harvest was estimated at 802 000 tonnes, a decrease of 24 percent from 2000. Excessive rain and localized floods in many areas combined with prolonged dry weather in the south reduced yields. In July, the Government appealed to the international community for food aid for 2 million people in 42 districts in a state of emergency. The Government has distributed 5 000 tonnes of maize from its own resources so far and has ordered 150 000 tonnes from South Africa to be sold to selected millers at subsidized prices. Only 26 000 tonnes had arrived by mid-January, however, also due to transport problems.

In Zimbabwe, the 2001 maize crop was estimated at 1.5 million tonnes, 28 percent less than in 2000 and well below average. The report indicates that "the decrease was mainly due to a reduction of 54 percent in the area planted on the large-scale commercial farms, as a result of disruption by land acquisition activities." Delayed payments from the Grain Marketing Board affected plantings, and yields were reduced by a mid-season dry spell followed by excessive rains. In the first week of February, official maize stocks were estimated at 10 000 tonnes -- less than one week of consumption.

WFP has requested US$60 million to purchase 94 000 tonnes of cereals to assist 558 000 people facing acute food shortages. As of the end of January 2002, no pledges had been received.

The report notes that "food security is also being affected by the general economic crisis prevailing in Zimbabwe. Scarcity of foreign exchange and the resulting shortages of petrol, erratic power supply and inadequate supplies of raw materials, are seriously disrupting all economic activities." Zimbabwe's food situation could deteriorate further in the second half of this year, due to reduced plantings and a prolonged dry spell since December 2001.

Elsewhere in the region, emergency food aid is being distributed in southern Mozambique, Swaziland, Lesotho and Namibia, where food shortages are mainly due to reduced harvests or drought. In Angola, as civil war continues, 1.3 million internally displaced people will need emergency food assistance in 2002.

22 February 2002

Related links:

FAO/WFP Special Alert on Southern Africa

Mwita Rukandema, Senior economist in the Global Information and Early Warning Service speaks on UN radio (RealPlayer)

Database on Southern Africa

Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS)

World Food Programme (WFP)

R. Jones/FAO/19366

Maize prices have risen sharply in southern Africa, while harvests have fallen

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