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Last Africa Report of 1998 warns of major food crisis in Somalia

FAO's last Africa Report for 1998 opens with a strongly worded warning about a developing food crisis in Somalia. Farmers in the strife-torn East African country have just brought in their fifth consecutive poor harvest. The report cites "drought, reduced plantings, an abnormally high incidence of crop pests and diseases associated with floods earlier in the year, and the long-running civil strife" as the reasons for the "extremely poor" harvest from the main cropping season.

Somalia's first season crops in 1998 were devastated by "the worst floods in decades associated with the El Niño phenomenon", according to the report. A further blow to national food security was dealt by Saudi Arabia's ban on livestock imports from Somalia, because of recent livestock disease outbreaks. The ban has severely curtailed the country's import capacity. Malnutrition is on the rise and large-scale population movements in search of food and work are reported. FAO estimates that some 125 000 tonnes of food aid will be needed until at least July 1999.

The report says, "Recent estimates put the number of people facing food shortages at 700,000, and those most at risk at 300,000, mainly in Bay and Bakool regions. Sustained relief is urgently needed for these populations." In a recently launched UN Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeal, UN agencies are seeking US$18 million for funding emergency food, nutrition and health operations in southern and central Somalia.

Number of countries facing food emergencies down from last year

Elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, the picture is not so grim. The number of countries facing exceptional food emergencies is down from 20 out of 48 at the end of 1997, to 13 at the end of this year (see graphic). The region's cereal import requirements for 1998/99 are projected to be lower than in 1997/98.

In southern Sudan, "the severe famine conditions in recent months have eased with improved food aid distribution and a better harvest". The food supply situation is also said to have markedly improved in other East African countries - Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.

In the Great Lakes region, food production has recovered significantly, except in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where fighting and large-scale population displacement is severely disrupting farming. "Prices of basic foodstuffs in local markets are rising rapidly as supplies become increasingly scarce", according to the report.

In Burundi, good weather and the easing of the regional economic embargo have improved food production and supply. While in Rwanda, increased food production this year has improved the overall food supply situation, although continued insecurity in the northwest of the country is severely hampering farming activities and forcing increasing numbers of local people to abandon their homes.

Bumper harvest forecast for West Africa

Because of generally good growing conditions, a bumper harvest is forecast for most of the major cereal-producing countries in the Sahel. Record crops are anticipated in Chad, Mali and Niger. But some countries will still face food difficulties. In Cape Verde, lack of rain has cut crop production. In Guinea-Bissau the fighting that started at the beginning of the growing season prevented farmers from tending their fields and "production is anticipated to be well below average", according to the report.

"Liberia and Sierra Leone will continue to rely heavily on external food assistance, despite some recovery in food production, particularly in Liberia where security has markedly improved in the rural areas", the report says.

In southern Africa, the overall food supply situation remains stable, though El Niño-related weather anomalies that have substantially reduced cereal production could mean tighter supplies in some countries. The countries most affected were Lesotho, Namibia and Zambia. Once again, civil strife is the main enemy of food security in Angola where the "food supply situation is anticipated to deteriorate over the coming months", according to the Africa report. (Go to Angola Special Alert)

Special feature on animal diseases in eastern Africa

The report includes a special feature on Transboundary Animal Disease Changes in Eastern Africa. It examines recent epidemics of rinderpest, rift valley fever and other diseases and lists four critical areas for action in supporting "poorly structured and poorly resourced national veterinary services".

Report highlights areas of priority action for sub-Saharan Africa

The report highlights five areas for priority action by the international community:

  • Somalia needs urgent food assistance.
  • Everything possible should be done to resolve the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo and to resume humanitarian assistance to the stricken population in the eastern part of the country.
  • Food assistance continues to be needed, especially in Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau, Rwanda, Burundi and southern Sudan.
  • In those countries where substantial cereal surpluses at the national level are anticipated alongside localized food deficits, donors are urged to undertake local purchases to the extent possible for their food aid programmes within the countries and for triangular transactions.
  • Sustained donor assistance is needed for the rehabilitation of the agricultural sector in Rwanda, Liberia, Sierra Leone and other countries where prospects for lasting peace have become a reality following devastation caused by prolonged civil strife.

21 December 1998

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