JOHANNESBURG/ROME, 26 August 2002 - The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) urged donor countries to commit critically needed food aid and financial support to Southern Africa to avert a large scale humanitarian crisis. The call came in a report, which says that the number of people in need of emergency food aid in Southern Africa is close to 13 million.

The report warned that only 24 percent of the US$507.3 million needed to provide food assistance to more than 10 million people until the next main harvest in April 2003 has been pledged. Assistance is also urgently needed to provide agricultural inputs to help farmers recover from the crisis. Against FAO's estimated requirements of US$25 million in mid-August pledges covered only 26 percent of the amount needed.

FAO's tri-annual Food Supply Situation and Crop Prospects in Sub-Saharan Africa, lists 21 countries* in the region as facing "food emergencies," up from 19 in April this year. The causes include civil strife, drought, excessive rain, flooding and population displacement.

"The food situation in southern Africa is of grave concern," the report says. "A prolonged dry spell during the 2001/02 growing season, and excessive precipitation in parts, devastated crops in large growing areas. In Zimbabwe, reduced planting in the large-scale commercial sector due to land reform activities compounded the problem. Maize production in the sub-region fell sharply, reaching less than one-quarter of last year's level in Zimbabwe, one-third in Lesotho and just over a half in Malawi, Zambia and Swaziland."

In Zimbabwe, the "food and nutritional situation gives cause for serious concern following two consecutive sharply reduced cereal harvests and the country's prevailing economic crisis." There are shortages of the main staple, maize, particularly in rural areas. Overall, high levels of inflation continue to erode access of poor households to food and non-food items. The outlook for the crop and livestock production 2002/03 is said to be "bleak due to disruption of farming activities in the large-scale commercial sector."

More than half the country's population is reported in need of food aid and FAO calls for "additional donor contributions" to stem the deterioration of the food situation. Assistance with agricultural inputs is also "urgently required to enable drought-affected farming families to restart agricultural production during the next main planting season starting October 2002."

Malawi has also been hard hit by the food crisis with instances of starvation reported in parts of the country earlier this year. The report estimates that some 3.2 million people have been seriously hurt by the combined effects of reduced food availability and food access. Distribution of relief food has begun to about 500,000 people. That number will rise to 3.2 million by December. So far, the report says, food aid requirements have been well resourced by donor contributions.

In Zambia, severe crop losses during the last cropping season due to drought have left some 2.3 million people, or about one-quarter of the population, in need of food assistance. In the worst affected Southern Province 60 percent of the population require relief food assistance.

A cease-fire agreement in Angola has revealed the extent of suffering by people trapped in rural areas of the country. Large numbers of severely malnourished people have since made their way to reception and transit centres and up to half a million people are reported in critical nutritional condition. More malnourished people will likely be found as the security situation in the country improves and more areas become accessible.

At the national level, Mozambique had a good cereal harvest, but the food situation in the southern region and parts of central regions is extremely tight, because crops were devastated by drought. Cereal production in these areas declinedby one-third from last year's already reduced level. FAO estimates that 515,000 people in 43 districts of the Southern and Central regions are facing severe food shortages and need emergency food aid.

In Namibia, the food supply situation is said to be "tight" following a sharp decline in this year's cereal production. The country faces a cereal deficit of about 156,000 tonnes in 2002/03. A recent vulnerability assessment by the government found that 500,000 people will need food aid as a result of the reduced harvest.

Elsewhere in southern Africa, the food supply situation is difficult in Lesotho and Swaziland where some 585,000 people are in need of food assistance. Emergency assistance with agricultural inputs such as seeds and fertilizer is also required to help disaster-affected farming families to restart agricultural production.

In parts of Eastern Africa the outlook for the 2002 crops in most countries of the sub-region is unfavourable, due to late onset of the rainy season and extended dry spells. Serious food shortages have started to emerge in several areas, particularly in Eritrea, parts of Ethiopia and Kenya.

The food situation is said to be generally improved in the Great Lakes region, but difficulties persist in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Western Africa, crop prospects have deteriorated in some parts due to extended dry weather over most parts of the Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania and Senegal.

Sub-Saharan Africa's cereal import requirements are expected to remain high, reflecting the sharp falls in cereal production in southern Africa. Reduced production in eastern Africa and increased population displacements in other parts of the continent due to conflict can also be expected to drive up import requirements. FAO estimates the total food aid requirement for the region at 1.81 tonnes for the current marketing year. Food aid pledges for 2001/02, including those carried over from 2000/01, amount to 1.22 million tonnes of which 1.06 million tonnes have been delivered.

While FAO's Global Information and Early Warning Service monitors the food and crop situation throughout the world, including sub-Saharan Africa, the Organization's Emergency Operations and Rehabilitation Division provides assistance to people affected by natural and man-made disasters.

The Emergency Operations and Rehabilitation Division is at work in a number of countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including Angola, Burundi, Congo, Ethiopia, the Horn of Africa, the Great Lakes and Central Africa, Somalia and Sudan. The Division provides assistance to the livestock and agriculture sectors to get food production up and working as soon as possible following a disaster. Its aim is to ensure that the population can feed itself again as quickly as possible.

*The 21 countries facing food emergencies are: Angola, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mauritania, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.