Overall food outlook in sub-Saharan Africa favourable, but 17 countries face exceptional food emergencies

The number of sub-Saharan African countries on FAO's exceptional food emergency list has risen from 13 to 17 since the end of 1998, according to the Organization's latest report on the Food Supply Situation and Crop Prospects in Sub-Saharan Africa. War and civil strife remain the princial enemies to food security for millions of men, women and children, with adverse weather conditions aggravating the situation in some areas.

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In Angola, where fighting between government forces and UNITA rebels broke out again at the end of 1998, the food outlook is reported to be "extremely bleak". As people abandon their farms for the relative safety of government-held towns and cities, "some reports say that the Angolan countryside is being systematically depopulated," according to FAO. Although the 1998/99 rainy season has been favourable for crops, the planted area is likely to have been severely reduced, leaving the country in need of "massive food assistance". Delivery of such assistance is difficult and expensive, being largely by air because of the security problems and the land mines.

In Somalia, after six consecutive poor harvests and long-running civil strife, the food crisis has "deepened", according to FAO. "Starvation-related deaths and widespread severe malnutrition" are reported. Normal economic and commercial activities have been severely curtailed, particularly in the south, and "traditional coping mechanisms have been virtually exhausted". The people's last resort is to move in search of food and safety.

Current estimates put 1 million people desperately short of food and more than 400 000 threatened by starvation. "Even though distribution of food relief continues to be seriously hampered by insecurity," the report says, "the international community should devise ways to reach the increasingly desperate population." Seeds are also urgently needed for the planting in the "Gu" season, which is just beginning.

In Sudan, in spite of a record cereal harvest in 1998, some 2.36 million people in the conflict-torn South are in need of emergency food assistance. The ongoing war between Eritrea and Ethiopia has forced thousands of people on both sides to flee their homes and has left 272 000 people in Ethiopia in need of food aid. In Eritrea, emergency food aid is being provided to 268 000 people most affected by the war.

In the Great Lakes region, "the food supply situation remains precarious, with efforts to increase food production hamstrung by persistent insecurity and sporadic violence, as well as weather adversities," according to the report. Harvests in Burundi and Rwanda have been cut by prolonged dry spells, and insecurity in some areas continues to disrupt food production. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, ongoing fighting has forced many rural people to abandon their farms and homes. In the capital city, Kinshasa, a recent survey of families on the outskirts indicated that "90 percent of daily household expenditure goes to food," according to the report. In the Republic of Congo, renewed fighting in Brazzaville and in the Pool region in the south displaced over 30 000 people. However, an improvement in the security situation has led to the return of most IDPs to their homes.

In Western Africa, the report gives the food outlook for 1999 as "generally favourable", particularly in the Sahelian countries, thanks to above-average and record harvests. "Several countries have cereal surpluses available for donor purchases for transfer to deficit areas within the countries themselves, or for triangular transactions," according to the report.

Violence in rural Sierra Leone, however, is forcing people to abandon their homes and farms. The report warns that this will affect plantings in the coming season, which starts in April/May, and predicts that it "will probably cause a considerable reduction in yields". In the capital, Freetown, severe food and fuel shortages are reported, despite the return of traders and reopening of banks. The continued insecurity is also affecting distribution of seeds and tools and provision of technical assistance, severely hampering attempts at agricultural rehabilitation.

In Tanzania, rain failure, abnormally high storage losses and "significant informal maize outflows to neighbouring countries" have all led to a big drop in domestic maize supplies. About 1 million people are now vulnerable to food shortages.

Despite the dire situations in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, cereal import requirements for the subregion in 1998/99 are forecast to be lower than in 1997/98, as a result of the good harvests in western and parts of eastern Africa. Similarly, food aid requirements are forecast to be lower.

21 April 1999

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