Food crisis deepens in East Africa

Nearly 20 million people are facing serious food shortages in Eastern Africa, says a new FAO report. The number of people at risk has risen by three million since April.

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"The food situation in Kenya, Eritrea and Ethiopia is very serious and needs urgent and concerted action to stave off large scale starvation," warns the latest issue of FAO's "Food Supply Situation and Crop Prospects in Sub-Saharan Africa". The report , published three times a year, is prepared by the FAO Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS).

Drought and ongoing civil conflicts are the principal causes for the humanitarian crisis. In Kenya, the drought has left more than 3 million people in urgent need of food aid. Starvation-related deaths have been reported, particularly among children.

The border conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia has caused mass displacements of people, making an already precarious food situation much worse. More than 1.5 million people, nearly half the total population of Eritrea, have been displaced by the fighting. Another 300 000 people in drought-affected areas are vulnerable to food shortages. In Ethiopia, the war has displaced 400 000 people, and a total of more than 10 million people are in need of food assistance.

Although some progress has been made towards reaching a peace accord between Eritrea and Ethiopia, the report states that "the humanitarian emergency continues to deepen and the situation could degenerate into a crisis of catastrophic proportions without urgent international response to appeals for assistance."

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16 African countries face food emergencies

The report lists 16 countries facing food emergencies: Angola, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Mozambique, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda.

Many of these emergencies are due to armed conflicts and the resulting mass displacements of people. There are over one million internally displaced people in the Democratic Republic of Congo alone. In Burundi more than 700 000 people live in regroupment camps, and many people remain displaced in Rwanda. Extremely dry weather in many parts of these three countries has caused a notable reduction in harvests and increased food insecurity.

In Angola, the number of internally displaced people has reached 2.6 million. Nearly 2 million of them are in urgent need of humanitarian food assistance.

In Sierra Leone, nearly 200 000 internally displaced people are registered by aid agencies, but the number of non-registered internally displaced people is estimated to range between 500 000 and 1.2 million. Almost a half million more Sierra Leoneans have fled to safety in other West African countries.

There are also large numbers of displaced people in several countries of sub-Saharan Africa, including Liberia, Somalia, and Sudan due to recent or on-going wars and civil strife. The report stresses that providing humanitarian assistance to these vulnerable groups must be an area of high priority for the international community.

Good news from southern and western Africa

In southern Africa, food supplies are considered satisfactory. Despite the floods and crop damage caused by cyclone Eline in February, a "bumper 2000 crop is in prospect" for South Africa, the report says. However, many southern African countries continue to be vulnerable to food shortages due to widespread flooding during the 1999/2000 growing season. Continued relief assistance, including support for agricultural rehabilitation and repair of infrastructure remains a high priority, particularly in Mozambique and Madagascar.

Food supplies are stable in west Africa, thanks to above-average or record harvests in most of the region's countries. However, large numbers of people in, Guinea Bissau, Liberia and Sierra Leone remain vulnerable to food shortages as a result of civil conflicts.

For sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, cereal import requirements for 2000 are expected to increase by 4 percent, largely due to drought-reduced harvests in Eastern Africa. Many countries will have difficulty obtaining these imports through commercial channels. The report concludes that "a substantial part of the imports will have to come from food aid, and additional food aid pledges will be needed to avert a crisis."

22 August 2000

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