- More than 10 million people will need humanitarian assistance in six countries across Southern Africa over the coming year following yet another year of poor agricultural production caused by erratic weather together with late, and in some cases unaffordable inputs, such as fertilizer and seeds, two UN agencies and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) warned.
Reports compiled by the UN's food and agriculture agency FAO and the World Food Programme (WFP) - following recent assessment missions in Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zambia – show that these countries were not able to grow enough food to meet domestic needs and that even allowing for considerable commercial imports, serious food shortages would persist until the next harvest in May 2006.
Other reports compiled by SADC and the governments of Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe had confirmed the need for large-scale food assistance across the region at the household level. The region also needed to formulate national policies on staple food prices, agricultural reform, and trade at the national and regional level.
Collectively, the 13-member states of SADC produced a cereal surplus of 2.1 million tonnes compared with 1.1 million tonnes a year ago. Most of the excess was produced by South Africa, which harvested a surplus of about 5.5 million tonnes this year.
The assessment reports had indicated that about 2.8 million tonnes of food would need to be commercially imported in the six countries to meet the largest part of the shortfall. In addition, the reports estimated that the international community would need to provide about 730,000 tonnes of food aid to support the region's most vulnerable people.
Of the total amount of food aid required by the six countries, WFP said it needed US$ 266 million or 477,000 tonnes immediately "so that food can either be purchased locally with cash donations, or it can be shipped to the region in time to meet the escalating needs" between now and the next lean season from January to March 2006.
Given the gravity of the findings, WFP, FAO and SADC have called on donor governments worldwide to "respond quickly and generously with food aid donations in kind or cash to avoid widespread hunger from developing into a humanitarian disaster."
The assessment teams had been "struck by the scarcity of maize at harvest time in some countries, prompting the need for an immediate response," the two UN agencies added. People and local communities had been weakened by successive years of drought.
While all the five countries faced shortfalls, the drought has had a different impact on them. Even though Lesotho produced 15 percent more maize this year than in 2004, the country has faced a continuous drought since 2001. It was estimated that 549,000 people will face significant food shortages from now until May 2006. In nearby Swaziland, the situation is comparable and it is estimated that up to 227,000 people will face severe food shortages from August through to the next harvest.
Malawi, on the other hand, was facing its lowest maize harvest since 1992, producing just 1.25 million tonnes or 37 percent of the 3.4 million tonnes of cereals needed for national consumption each year. This decline was caused by erratic weather which has plagued Malawi together with problems in the supply of agricultural inputs. The Malawi government estimates that 4.2 million people or 34 percent of the population will need food assistance over the year ahead.
Much of Mozambique had experienced a reasonably good cereal production in comparison to other countries in the region, but the production disparity between the north and the south increased significantly. An estimated 580,000 people will need food aid this year, particularly in the south and central provinces. In Zambia, the southern and western provinces were hit by dry weather and some "185,000 people require immediate food or cash assistance, rising to 1.2 million people by January."
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