Critical window closing fast for 12 million hungry Southern Africans, UN warns

13 October 2005

Calling on donors “to open their hearts at this most critical time,” a top United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) official has warned that a vital window is closing fast for 12 million people in Southern Africa to receive urgent help, including 5 million in Malawi facing the toughest ‘hunger season’ in more than a decade.

Calling on donors “to open their hearts at this most critical time,” a top United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) official has warned that a vital window is closing fast for 12 million people in Southern Africa to receive urgent help, including 5 million in Malawi facing the toughest ‘hunger season’ in more than a decade.

“It is deplorable that enough donations only come in when images of emaciated African children starving in large numbers start appearing on television screens around the world,” WFP Deputy Executive Director Sheila Sisulu said, noting that the agency needs $185 million to feed up to 9.2 million hungry people in Lesotho, Swaziland, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

“Hunger doesn’t have to be inevitable in Africa but once food needs start to peak, it will be too late for many of the weakest, especially children, and the cost of saving lives will escalate significantly,” she added in the Malawian capital Lilongwe.

She noted that for Malawi alone WFP still needs $76 million to feed up to 2.9 million people before the next harvest in April/May 2006. “Malawi is not a repeat of Niger… yet. There is still a chance to help the most vulnerable,” she said referring to the food crisis that killed thousands in Niger earlier this year.

“If we all act now, there is no reason why the situation should deteriorate further. But the world should be under no illusion, the clock is ticking and the outlook is bleak. We need money pledged now to feed the hungriest in a few months’ time.”

Over the past six months, WFP and other aid agencies have warned of an imminent food crisis in Malawi and the rest of Southern Africa. It can take up to six months for donor pledges to WFP to appear as food aid on the ground in southern Africa.

The food shortage in Malawi is caused by a combination of problems including the poorest maize harvest since 1994, erratic weather, shortages of seeds and fertilizers at the critical planting time, high prices for available food and chronic poverty, with at least 60 per cent of Malawians living below the poverty line.

HIV/AIDS has also had a serious impact on agriculture, limiting people’s ability to grow food as many families are forced to spend meagre resources on medicine or funerals for those affected, leaving nothing to buy seeds and fertilizer at the most critical planting time. Malawi has an average adult HIV prevalence rate of 14.4 per cent. Pockets in the country are considerably higher.

Malawi, like the rest of Southern Africa, is beset by a rising number of orphans due to HIV/AIDS, placing a heavy burden on families struggling to cope with food shortages. Even after good harvests, many of the poorest families have difficulties feeding themselves.

 

♦ Receive daily updates directly in your inbox - Subscribe here to a topic.
♦ Download the UN News app for your iOS or Android devices.