- Erratic weather patterns in Southern Africa, from searing droughts to raging floods, have devastated harvest prospects for millions of people and could spell yet another year of widespread food shortages, the severely under-funded UN World Food Programme (WFP) warned today.
"All indications are that southern Africa could be heading for yet another year of critical food shortages," WFP Regional Director Amir Abdulla said. "Assessments need to be carried out as soon as possible to determine the impact agricultural losses may have on these groups, but already the early indications for several countries are alarming."
Even without the additional challenges that would be posed by widespread erratic harvests in southern Africa, WFP said it was facing a funding shortfall of about US$ 97 million for current operations through to the end of 2007. WFP currently helps 4.3 million people in the region.
Parts of Angola, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia have been struck by devastating floods along the Zambezi River, which have destroyed tens of thousands of hectares of crops during the most critical growing stage.
In stark contrast, Lesotho, Namibia, southern Mozambique, much of Swaziland and large swathes of Zimbabwe's cropland have all been affected by prolonged dry spells which have withered and killed crops or reduced their development. Impoverished Lesotho, for example, is expecting up to a 60 percent decline in agricultural output over last year's harvest.
In addition, South Africa, usually the largest producer of maize in the region and one of WFP's procurement points, is facing poor harvest prospects due to recent weeks of extreme heat and drought in some parts of the country and reduced harvests there could be especially problematic, particularly as maize prices have already started escalating.
"For some parts of the region, it's simply too late to hope that a late burst of rainfall will change people's food supply outlook for the year ahead," Mr Abdulla said.
One of the countries worst affected by dry spells is Swaziland, which is potentially facing a sixth consecutive year of poor harvests, perhaps the worst in 25 years. "We are now pulling together an assessment team to determine the extent of crop failure and the likely impact on the country's food supply, but initial findings are grim," Mr Abdulla noted.
Since 2002, WFP has been supporting about a quarter of Swaziland's 1.1 million people with food to improve the nutrition of families hit by drought, poverty and HIV/AIDS. Even in a normal year, nearly half the population is classified as suffering from food insecurity. At the same time, however, Swaziland's playboy King Mswati is creating headlines over his personal spending, discouraging donors from engaging in the poverty-ridden kingdom.
Parts of Zimbabwe, too, are of particular concern as early indications show that cereal crops in much of the southern half of the country have been decimated by a long dry spell in January and early February. Donors have also been shying away from Zimbabwe for several years.
But despite erratic weather, at least Malawi is expected to yield a bumper harvest again this year, while Zambia and northern Mozambique are also likely to produce good harvests that will represent buying opportunities for WFP as in previous years. Crops in the region are usually harvested during April and May.
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