ROME, 29 May 2002 -- The UN Food
and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme
(WFP) warned today that at least 10 million people in four
southern African countries are threatened by potential famine -
and that figure is expected to rise when reports from two other
countries are completed.
today, covering the results of recent joint missions to Malawi,
Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Swaziland said that millions of people are
on the brink of starvation, and that they will face grave food
shortages as early as June, which would continue up to the next
main harvest, in April 2003.
picture will become even bleaker when the report on Zambia and
one on some parts of Mozambique are added to the assessment of
an already critical humanitarian situation. Two successive
years of poor harvests caused by natural calamities, coupled
with economic crises and disruption of farming activities in
parts, have slashed food production and availability across the
region, resulting in one of southern Africa's worst
agricultural disasters in a decade.
the next year, nearly 4 million tonnes of food will need to be
imported to meet the minimum food needs of the sub-region's
population. Almost 10 million people in the famine-threatened
countries need immediate emergency food assistance of some 1.2
The joint UN missions -
covering six countries - brought together leading agricultural
and food vulnerability specialists. Their reports constitute the
broadest, most objective and authoritative study of the crisis
to date. More than in any recent year, governments, donors and
aid agencies have been awaiting the critical results from these
harvest-time missions in order to plan their response.
The FAO/WFP missions, including observers
from governments, donor agencies and NGOs, assessed the outcome
of the 2001/02 main maize harvest, the region's staple
food, plus other food crops. They also forecast the upcoming
2002/03 winter crop production in order to determine each
country's food import requirements, including food aid
needs, for the next 12 months.
gravity of the findings, the two Rome-based food agencies today
called on donor governments worldwide to respond quickly and
generously with food aid donations to avoid widespread hunger
from developing into a humanitarian disaster. The teams were
struck by the scarcity of maize at harvest time, prompting the
need for an immediate response. Even in a poor year, at least
some maize is normally available for a few months or weeks in
markets and homes.
facing a serious food crisis, even at harvest time, and unless
international food assistance is provided urgently and
adequately, there will be a serious famine and loss of life in
the coming months," according to the report.
The longest dry spell experienced in
Zimbabwe in 20 years has made the food situation especially
dire. This has been compounded by the sharp fall in maize
produced by commercial farmers who normally produce one-third of
the total cereals, but whose farming operations were disrupted
by the ongoing land reform activities and widespread illegal
invasions. The overall cereal deficit is a staggering 1.5
million tonnes, even taking into account anticipated commercial
imports and pledged food aid. Some 6 million people in rural
and urban areas are estimated to need emergency food aid.
Long dry spells combined with a depletion
of national grain reserves in
Malawi contributed to food
shortages early this year, driving farmers to consume crops
prematurely. With abnormally high malnutrition rates among small
children and women and extremely high food prices, desperation
set in and survival strategies such as skipping meals and eating
often poisonous wild foods were widely reported. Goats and
chickens were sold at throw-away prices to buy food.
Malawi's maize production, currently estimated at
1.5 million tonnes, hasfallen by 10percent below last
year's poor harvest. According to the FAO/WFP report,
although the cereal deficit is mitigated slightly by increased
production of roots and tubers, 485,000 tonnes of commercial
cereal imports will be required, of which 208,000 tonnes will be
food aid. More than 3 million people are seriously affected by
reduced food availability and purchasing power, and will require
emergency food aid over the year ahead.
Lesotho, a second year of
severe weather including heavy rainfall, frost, hailstorms and
tornadoes, contributed to another poor cereal harvest in 2002 --
60 percent lower than in normal years. Production of beans and
peas, extensively grown for home consumption but also as cash
crops, was also extremely low and will considerably reduce
people's protein intake. Most rural households own
livestock, but rising theft within villages and across borders
has taken its toll -- livestock provide a vital source of cash
to buy food when agricultural production is low.
The Government of Lesotho declared a state of famine
in April. Some 444,800 people require emergency food aid
throughout the country, particularly in Qacha's Nek,
Quthing and Mohale's Hoek. According to the report,
"agriculture faces a catastrophic future; crop
production is declining and could cease altogether over large
tracts of Lesotho if steps are not taken to reverse soil
erosion, degradation and the decline in soil
Swaziland, a third year of
erratic weather with dry spells affecting crops during their
critical flowering stage, has reduced production particularly in
the dry Middleveld, Lowveld and Lubombo Plateau. "The
combination of poor production from 2000/01, a severe reduction
in this year's agricultural production, a contraction in
agricultural wage labor opportunities and rising prices have
made a substantial percentage of the chronically poor and hungry
households food insecure for a portion of the year,"
the report said. An estimated 144,000 people will need food aid.
All of the countries affected in the region
are experiencing a combination of problems, including growing
unemployment and lack of foreign exchange. However, the rapid
spread of HIV/AIDS in southern Africa, where infection rates are
the highest in the world, makes vulnerability to food shortages
all the more deadly.