Next to HIV/AIDS, the food crisis in southern Africa - in which some 13 million people were at risk of starvation - was the most serious humanitarian emergency in the world, a senior United Nations official said today.
Speaking at a press briefing in Geneva, James Morris, the Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Envoy for the humanitarian crisis in southern Africa, said that the crisis was brought on by drought and poverty, and complicated by government policies.
"So you lay the new issues on the general situation and you have got a very, very serious problem," said Mr. Morris, who noted that of the 12.8 million persons at risk, 6.1 million were in Zimbabwe, more than 3 million in Malawi, more than 2 million in Zambia, 500,000 in Mozambique, 450,000 in Lesotho and 200,000 in Swaziland.
WFP has set up an office in Johannesburg and moved 80 people there to establish a single pipeline to bring resources in and to distribute them in a very coordinated way, Mr. Morris said. The UN community was set to raise $611 million to respond to the problems, including $507 million for WFP alone, as it was largely a food crisis. However, there were also serious problems of health, sanitation, water, nutrition, medicine, and a shortfall of agricultural inputs like seeds and tools.
Mr. Morris said that he had a very good meeting with the UN's humanitarian group in Geneva, and many of the donor countries were present. The urgency now was to have the resources committed so that the food could be in place in the six countries prior to the rains coming in late October.
"We are making good progress. We have had tremendous support from the United States, the United Kingdom; we have had great support from Japan, the European Community, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, the Nordic countries, Germany. These folks have been very generous to us," Mr. Morris said.