Nearly 13 million face starvation in southern Africa, UN agencies warn

Nearly 13 million face starvation in southern Africa, UN agencies warn

With food production hampered by drought and other natural calamities, nearly 13 million people in southern Africa face the prospect of starvation, potentially the region’s worst humanitarian disaster in a decade, the United Nations warned today.

The looming disaster is exacerbated by huge HIV/AIDS infection rates for people already mired in chronic poverty, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP), which are about to release their final joint country-by-country food assessment study of the region.

The latest reports paint a particularly bleak picture in Zambia, where some 2.3 million people will need an estimated 174,383 tons of food aid up to the next harvest in March 2003. Along with neighbouring countries, Zambia has experienced a second year of drought, especially in the south, where poor rainfall, combined with a lack of seed and fertilizer, cattle disease and inadequate access to markets and health services has been making life especially difficult for poor households in parts of the country.

"All the classic signs of acute social stress are evident in Zambia," the report states. "People are turning to desperate measures, including eating potentially poisonous wild foods, stealing crops and prostitution to get enough for their families to eat."

The Zambia study follows those released earlier on Malawi, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique, as joint FAO/WFP missions assessed the outcome of the 2001-02 main maize harvest, the region’s staple food, plus other crops. The visits also forecast the 2002-03 winter crop production in order to determine each country’s food import requirements, including food aid needs, for the next 12 months, and concluded that an estimated 4 million tons of food must be imported to meet the minimum needs of the six countries’ populations.

The two Rome-based UN agencies today reiterated the need for donor governments to respond quickly and generously with food aid donations to avoid widespread hunger from developing into a humanitarian disaster.