17 December 2002 ROME, Italy -- Some 40 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are threatened by severe food shortages and a major humanitarian crisis is deepening in southern Africa, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today.

This bleak warning came in a report released by the UN food agency in Rome. It said the food situation is most serious in southern Africa, where 16.7 million people need emergency food assistance to survive until the next harvest in April 2003.

Food Supply Situation and Crop Prospects in Sub-Saharan Africa warns: "There is urgent need to expedite commercial imports and food aid distributions to avert a major humanitarian catastrophe in southern Africa." The report is based in part on latest information available to FAO and World Food Programme on the countries concerned. Because of the high rates of HIV/AIDS throughout the sub-region, widespread hunger threatens many people with life-threatening complications.

FAO and WFP have estimated the total food shortfall for southern Africa at 1.6 million tonnes, after expected commercial imports. WFP has appealed for 993 000 tonnes of food aid. So far, 663 000 tonnes, or 67 percent, have been pledged.

According to the report, distributions have been seriously delayed in Zambia and Zimbabwe. Commercial maize imports have also been slow and prices have started to rise in several countries.

In Angola, despite being able to reach hungry people in areas that were earlier cut off because of the war, food insecurity and malnutrition rates remain high. Internally displaced persons returning home lack access to basic health services, says the report.

FAO has appealed for $25 million to help the neediest farmers in Southern Africa with much-needed agricultural inputs, such as seeds, fertilizer and hand tools, for the next cropping season.

The report also warns that serious food shortages are looming in several countries in the Horn of Africa, where at least 17.5 million people are without sufficient food. The situation is most serious in Eritrea and Ethiopia where food aid is urgently needed to prevent famine. In Eritrea, a third of the population is facing severe food shortages because of drought. In addition, humanitarian assistance is still needed for people who were displaced by the war with Ethiopia and for refugees returning from Sudan.

In Ethiopia, poor and erratic rains have caused severe food problems for millions of people. Large numbers of livestock have died and unusual population migrations are reported, especially in the eastern and pastoral areas. A joint FAO/WFP assessment mission has just returned from the country and its report is to be released shortly.

Many people in Sudan, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda also need food assistance because of production shortfalls caused by poor rains and in some cases civil conflict.

In the Great Lakes region, the food outlook for Rwanda and Burundi is poor because the first season harvests of 2003 are forecast to decline due to delayed rainfall. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the escalation of fighting in the east has caused people to flee their farms. Acute malnutrition continues to increase among internally displaced persons as the fighting hinders humanitarian assistance.

Western Africa is also suffering from food problems, especially in Mauritania, where three consecutive poor harvests have led to an extremely serious food situation. The report estimates that this year's cereal harvest in the Sahel is below last year's, because of insufficient rainfall.

In Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire, agricultural activities have been disrupted by civil strife leading to reduced harvest prospects. Côte d'Ivoire will need emergency food assistance, while both Sierra Leone and Guinea are already heavily dependent on international food assistance because of large numbers of internally displaced people and refugees.

Overall, 25 countries in sub-Saharan Africa are facing food emergencies caused by problems that range from drought and adverse weather to civil strive, economic difficulties, an increase in internally displaced people and an influx of refugees. This is almost half the countries in the region: Angola, Burundi, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritania, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

John Riddle
Information Officer, FAO
(+39) 06 570 53259

Erwin Northoff
Information Officer, FAO
(+39) 06 570 53105