Southern Africa hunts for food as aid lags

Southern Africa hunts for food as aid lags

LUSAKA and BLANTYRE – Southern Africa’s food crisis is worsening, with desperate people in badly hit areas eating roots and tree bark as aid funding falls short despite repeated appeals, officials say.

Zambia declared a national emergency last month in the hope of spurring donations for an estimated 1,7 million hungry people, while in badly-hit Malawi officials say five million face serious food shortages as staple maize prices skyrocket. “Many people are struggling to find enough food for even one meal a day and some are totally reliant on foraging for wild foods, roots and seed pods in most cases,” the UN World Food Programme (WFP) spokeswoman in Zambia, Jo Woods, told Reuters.The WFP says it is still US$102 million (about N$653 million) short of some US$400 million (about N$2 560 million) needed to help Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe until the next harvest in April 2006 – and that there were no new donations on the horizon.The six countries, facing their fourth consecutive year of food shortages, have been hit by poor rains, inadequate supplies of fertiliser and seeds as well as the devastating AIDS epidemic which is killing off subsistence farmers.”It is far more critical this year because people have now sustained four years of food shortages and are living hand to mouth,” WFP regional spokesman Mike Huggins said in Johannesburg last week, adding he had seen people eating tree bark in soup on a recent trip.”They have no assets to sell anymore to buy food.It is extremely desperate for the poorest of the poor.”ROCKETING PRICES In Zimbabwe, where aid agencies estimate that more than four million people need help, prices for staple foods have climbed by as much as 700 per cent – almost double the country’s rate of inflation, aid workers say.Maize grain prices shot up by 20 percent in just one week in the capital Harare, while steep price gains in other areas have helped put basic foodstuffs out of reach of all but the wealthy.The government of President Robert Mugabe, which has had a rocky relationship with some foreign aid providers, said in October it planned to import grain for at least 2,2 million people unable to feed themselves until the next maize harvest.But it is unclear how much of those imports are making it through and aid workers are worried.”Aid workers are becoming increasingly concerned about the plight of the poorest people and their ability to acquire food from the markets …There is a total scarcity of food,” the WFP’s Huggins said.PRICE PAIN Price hikes are also compounding the disaster in Malawi, where officials say the worst maize harvest since 1992 will leave the country with just 37 per cent of the annual supply needed to feed its 12 million people.Maize prices have doubled to about $0,30 per kg in a country where three quarters of the population survive on less than a dollar a day.In Lusaka, Woods said the WFP still needed $29 million to feed an estimated 1,1 million of the country’s 1,7 million hungry to April and the situation beyond that looked also grim.Tiny Swaziland was also in dire straits, with a recent government report estimating that about a quarter of its 1,2 million people needed emergency food help to keep starvation at bay in the face of arid fields and dry rivers and wells.- Nampa-Reuters”Many people are struggling to find enough food for even one meal a day and some are totally reliant on foraging for wild foods, roots and seed pods in most cases,” the UN World Food Programme (WFP) spokeswoman in Zambia, Jo Woods, told Reuters.The WFP says it is still US$102 million (about N$653 million) short of some US$400 million (about N$2 560 million) needed to help Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe until the next harvest in April 2006 – and that there were no new donations on the horizon.The six countries, facing their fourth consecutive year of food shortages, have been hit by poor rains, inadequate supplies of fertiliser and seeds as well as the devastating AIDS epidemic which is killing off subsistence farmers.”It is far more critical this year because people have now sustained four years of food shortages and are living hand to mouth,” WFP regional spokesman Mike Huggins said in Johannesburg last week, adding he had seen people eating tree bark in soup on a recent trip.”They have no assets to sell anymore to buy food.It is extremely desperate for the poorest of the poor.”ROCKETING PRICES In Zimbabwe, where aid agencies estimate that more than four million people need help, prices for staple foods have climbed by as much as 700 per cent – almost double the country’s rate of inflation, aid workers say.Maize grain prices shot up by 20 percent in just one week in the capital Harare, while steep price gains in other areas have helped put basic foodstuffs out of reach of all but the wealthy.The government of President Robert Mugabe, which has had a rocky relationship with some foreign aid providers, said in October it planned to import grain for at least 2,2 million people unable to feed themselves until the next maize harvest.But it is unclear how much of those imports are making it through and aid workers are worried.”Aid workers are becoming increasingly concerned about the plight of the poorest people and their ability to acquire food from the markets …There is a total scarcity of food,” the WFP’s Huggins said.PRICE PAIN Price hikes are also compounding the disaster in Malawi, where officials say the worst maize harvest since 1992 will leave the country with just 37 per cent of the annual supply needed to feed its 12 million people.Maize prices have doubled to about $0,30 per kg in a country where three quarters of the population survive on less than a dollar a day.In Lusaka, Woods said the WFP still needed $29 million to feed an estimated 1,1 million of the country’s 1,7 million hungry to April and the situation beyond that looked also grim.Tiny Swaziland was also in dire straits, with a recent government report estimating that about a quarter of its 1,2 million people needed emergency food help to keep starvation at bay in the face of arid fields and dry rivers and wells.- Nampa-Reuters

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