With Africa in crisis, UN food agency head calls for long-term strategies

30 September 2003

Declaring that Africa is facing its worst humanitarian crisis in history, the head of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today called for aid to be used not just as a “band aid” in emergencies but as part of a long-term strategy to enhance self-reliance for the African people themselves.

“Responding to emergencies is not enough,” said WFP Executive Director James T. Morris, who was in Tokyo to participate in the International Conference on African Development (TICAD) III, a three-day conference bringing together African leaders, top officials from the Japanese Government and the UN. “We need to work in the quiet times as well, on long-term projects that root out hunger, poverty and dependency.”

Such strategies should rebuild communities, the local economy and agricultural development so that people can better cope when disasters strike, he added. More than any other continent, Africa is prone to cyclical drought and other weather disturbances that decimate food production.

Mr. Morris, who was appointed UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Envoy for the Southern Africa crisis in 2002, said the payoff of this approach could be seen in parts of Ethiopia where communities with completed WFP food-for-work projects recently survived severe drought better than communities without such programmes.

“Farming communities that had looked after their water conservation and land management systems were not left totally helpless when the rains failed,” he said. “They were still able to produce a crop, although reduced, thanks to their earlier efforts.”

Africa is facing its worst humanitarian crisis in history, with more than 40 million people going hungry this year and the need for aid reaching unprecedented levels, he added. WFP, for example, needs $2 billion, equal to its total budget worldwide for 2002, just to meet Africa’s food needs this year.

Citing the particular scourge that HIV/AIDS has brought to Africa, Mr. Morris noted that food aid is used to build a safety net for the affected families. Meals in school, nutritional supplements and income training programmes, complemented with food, help those families, especially women and children, become better equipped to face the future both during and after the loss of those with the disease.


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