‘Drastically under-funded’ UN food plan for southern Africa receives US boost

‘Drastically under-funded’ UN food plan for southern Africa receives US boost

James T. Morris
Faced with drastic under-funding of its efforts to feed more than 8 million people in urgent need of help in Southern Africa, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today hailed an American donation of more than $50 million, the second biggest contribution ever made to its operations in the region.

Faced with drastic under-funding of its efforts to feed more than 8 million people in urgent need of help in Southern Africa, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today hailed an American donation of more than $50 million, the second biggest contribution ever made to its operations in the region.

“By stepping in early with such a sizeable donation, the United States is among the first donors to enable WFP to respond effectively to the needs of millions of people, especially vulnerable children, before their needs become critical,” WFP Executive Director James Morris said, noting that the agency still needs more than $200 million.

“It can take up to four months to get food to the most vulnerable – and as we are seeing yet again in West Africa, the world cannot afford to wait until the last minute to pledge support,” he added, stressing that timely aid prevents hungry people from becoming starving people.

The threat posed by the food shortages is so serious that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan last week wrote to 27 Heads of State as well as the African Development Bank and the European Union (EU) to alert them to the fact that millions of people will go hungry in Southern Africa unless donations are immediately made.

WFP said today that its operations in the region are “drastically under-funded” and even after the US contribution, it needs $212 million through to March to support people whose crops failed this year, children in school, people suffering the effects of HIV/AIDS, and nutrition programmes for pregnant and lactating mothers.

The $51.8 million donation will allow WFP to feed the neediest people, including those affected by HIV/AIDS, before the lean season starts in December. Recent assessments show that at least as 10.7 million people may need help over the year ahead, particularly if governments are unable to maintain minimum maize prices for the poorest people.

WFP is planning to aid more than 8 million people worst affected by the prolonged dry spell that destroyed much of this season's harvest. The situation for many is compounded by the world's highest HIV/AIDS adult rates, rapidly increasing numbers of orphans, chronic poverty, and weakened ability for governments to respond.

At the height of the 2006 lean season, WFP needs to feed 245,000 people in Lesotho, 2 million in Malawi, 850,000 in Mozambique, 230,000 in Swaziland, 1.2 million in Zambia, and just over 4 million in Zimbabwe. But its ability to carry out these operations entirely depends upon voluntary international contributions.

“We always raise the alarm in plenty of time, but it's rare to receive enough food to cover critical food needs at the right time,” Mr. Morris said. “We are always behind the ball trying to reach people in need. Timely contributions like the one given by the United States go a long way to helping hungry people before they become starving people.”