April 1, 2005

Concern over donor response to new food crisis

With early indications pointing to a renewed humanitarian emergency in Southern Africa, there is concern that a lack of funding could prevent aid agencies from meeting the needs of the region's vulnerable people. In its latest situation report the World Food Programme (WFP) noted that "the extended dry spells in January and February, at the most critical stage of the cereal crop development, are likely to result in a significant reduction in the harvest".
"At least six governments ... are calling for crop and food supply assessment missions to be undertaken and coordinated with the Food and Agriculture Organisation," WFP said.
Earlier this month the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) noted that the dry spells had come on the back of a generally poor rainy season, coupled with the reported poor availability of agricultural inputs at the start of the agricultural season, "is expected to result in reduced crop yields, and subsequent production shortfalls".
FEWS NET said the "areas affected include southern and central Malawi (particularly southern Malawi), southern and central Mozambique, southern half of Zimbabwe, Swaziland, northern-most parts of South Africa, southern Zambia, and Botswana". WFP spokesman Mike Huggins said that although the extent of crop failures would only be known after thorough assessments had been conducted, "it is shaping up to be a very hard year ahead for many countries" in the region. "Many will be facing harvests similar to 2002, which saw a major humanitarian response to feed millions of people - initial indications are that it is along those lines," Huggins added.
Aid agencies estimated in July 2002 that some 13 million people in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique, Lesotho and Swaziland required emergency food aid in 2002/03.
"Given the erratic weather patterns, poorer farmers' inability to access seed and fertiliser, and the deadly cocktail of HIV/AIDS across the region - with weakened populations already spending money on medication, hospital bills and funerals rather than on planting - WFP is concerned about the harvest prospects in the region," he noted. (Rts)


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