Drought and civil war create food crisis in sub-Saharan Africa

Nearly 10 million people are in need of emergency food assistance in sub-Saharan Africa, according to a new FAO report. Severe drought and persistent civil strife and insecurity in many countries in the region have displaced large numbers of people and disrupted food production. The report lists 16 countries currently facing exceptional food emergenices.

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The situation is particularly serious in Angola. "Angola is facing a catastrophe," said Mwita Rukandema, FAO senior economist and editor of the report, Food Supply Situation and Crop Prospects in Sub-Saharan Africa. Since fighting resumed in December 1998, UNITA rebels have carried out a systematic campaign to drive the country's rural population into government-held cities and towns. The rebels have isolated these cities from the rest of the country by laying mines and carrying out ambushes along roads. For the nearly 2 million displaced people as well as the urban populations trapped in these besieged cities, "the food outlook is very bleak," states the report. To avoid the land mines and confrontations with rebel soldiers, food aid is being delivered mainly by air transport, making operations even more difficult and expensive. So far, only a fraction of the food aid has reached those in need. "If the stranglehold on cities and towns by UNITA continues, mass starvation of internally displaced persons, particularly children, is almost inevitable," warns Rukandema.

According to the report, the food situation is also "extremely grim" in Somalia, where inadequate rainfall, high temperatures and an outbreak of armyworms have lead to the seventh consecutive poor harvest. Resulting food shortages and escalation of factional fighting have displaced 70 000 people so far, and the report estimates that "more than a million people face serious food shortages, with over 400 000 at risk of starvation."

In Ethiopia, the crops planted during the early "belg" season have largely failed, and the report estimates that more than 5 million people, including the 385 000 people displaced by the war with Eritrea, will need emergency food aid. In Eritrea, the war has displaced nearly 250 000 people and some 61 500 deportees have arrived from Ethiopia. Despite Eritrea's good 1998 harvest, the food situation for these populations is "very tight".

In Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, where the political situation is more stable, a prolonged drought has seriously affected crop and livestock production. The drought conditions have caused large numbers of cattle producers in western Uganda to move to northern Tanzania in search of water and pasture. Cereal production is also down significantly in Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

However, not all the news contained in the report is bad. The report says that the food supply situation in most of western Africa, notably in the Sahel, is "expected to remain satisfactory until the next harvest."

12 August 1999

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