- The UN agency World Food Programme (WFP) said today that funding for its operations in southern Africa are at less than half of what is needed and unless donations pick up some 6.5 million people will face "severe hunger."
- Unless WFP receives immediate donations, 6.5 million people will face severe hunger at the most critical time of year, the agency said in a press statement from its Johannesburg office. This "critical time" is the upcoming period between planting and harvesting,
WFP said that it needs some US$ 193 million to fully fund a US$ 311 million appeal, launched in July, for food aid for Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland, Malawi, Zambia and Lesotho.
According to Mike Sackett, WFP Regional Director for southern Africa, "generous contributions" had "helped to stave off immediate cuts in WFP food distributions, but from January, countries across the region are confronted by the three-month lean season."
Mr Sackett added that "supplies of locally produced food in critical areas will be scarce and people's ability to cope is already limited because of the food shortages of recent years."
The shortages were said to be most acute in Zimbabwe and Mozambique, where food availability had decreased over the last year.
According to the UN agency, Zimbabwe alone was accounting for about two thirds of the appeal. The scarcity of food in Zimbabwe is worsened by a steep economic decline due to a combination of factors, including a huge drop in cereal and cash crop production compared with levels during the 1990s. Currently, Zimbabwe has an inflation rate of over 450 percent and infant mortality rates have doubled since 1998.
The regional food situation is further complicated by the fact that southern Africa has the highest HIV prevalence in the world, WFP emphasises. There had been an alarming increase in the number of households headed by children, the chronically ill or grandparents.
Moreover, because HIV/AIDS had devastated agricultural productivity, food shortages and chronic poverty were likely to persist for many years to come, according to WFP estimates.
- If we are ever to turn this situation around, we need to ensure those with HIV/AIDS have access to life-sustaining food so that families survive, Mr Sackett said. "Once the family unit starts to unravel, social and economic problems pitch people - many of them children - into a calamity from which it is extremely difficult - if not impossible - to emerge."
WFP has been carrying out emergency feeding in the region since 2001. The peak of operations was reached last year when 10.2 million people received WFP food aid, the agency said.
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