Southern Africa: despite good harvests, UN needs $85.5 million to feed 3 million hungry

28 June 2006

Despite better harvests across southern Africa, more than 3 million people will need over $85-million-worth of urgent international food aid this year because of grinding poverty and the highest rates of HIV/AIDS on earth, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned today.

Despite better harvests across southern Africa, more than 3 million people will need over $85-million-worth of urgent international food aid this year because of grinding poverty and the highest rates of HIV/AIDS on earth, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned today.

“It is great news that the region will have a reprieve from the major food deficits seen over the last few years,” WFP Executive Director James Morris said. “But as long as HIV/AIDS remains at such epic proportions throughout southern Africa, a large number of people will face severe hardship unless international assistance is provided.

“Good harvests do not necessarily mean people have enough to eat,” he added in a statement released following a one-day conference yesterday by the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) in Johannesburg, South Africa, where representatives from 10 countries announced preliminary agricultural production levels for the 2006/7 consumption year.

On a positive note, Malawi recorded its best harvest in nearly five years thanks to better rainfall and more widespread availability of seeds and fertilisers.

But many people across the region will need aid for the year ahead because they were unable to grow enough food to feed themselves until the next harvest, or they are unable to buy food on the market. Even though harvests in some countries have reached bumper levels, there are concerns that surpluses may be bought by traders in East Africa, which is facing food shortages, rather than being sold at affordable prices in southern Africa.

In addition, because southern Africa has nine of the 10 highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates in the world, many people are just too ill to work land or earn an income. The small amount of cash in poor HIV/AIDS-affected families is usually spent on medicines to treat their loved ones and on funerals.

More than 6 million people are estimated to be infected with the virus in Lesotho, Namibia, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The number of orphans and child-headed households is also increasingly placing a heavy burden on family structures, communities, and the state. Nearly half of all orphans due to HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, live in these seven countries.

“Food and good nutrition are crucial in battling against HIV/AIDS but it is very tough to convince the international community of the complexity and depth of the pandemic in this region, especially when people’s misery is masked by green fields and good harvests,” Mr. Morris said.

“Orphans and other vulnerable children are a particular concern for WFP as most governments can’t cope with the overwhelming number of young people who need help,” he added.

WFP needs $85.5 million to help feed some 3 million people through to December. By then, the number of families needing help could increase dramatically at the start of the ‘lean season,’ when they have exhausted their food stock and await harvesting of the main crop in April/May.

At times over the last five years, WFP food has reached up to 13 million people suffering from widespread food shortages caused by erratic weather, poor government policies, economic stagnation and shortages of seeds and fertilisers.

 

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