Famine looms in eastern Africa as lack of rain hits crops
The lack of rainfall in Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda has reduced production of cash crops such as coffee and tea, driving production and quality down and forcing prices up, industry sources have said.
Early this month, Kenya's Agriculture Minister Musalia Mudavadi issued a food shortage alert and ordered the country's National Cereals and Produce Board to intervene in the marketing of maize, the staple food.
The government's earlier projection of production of 37.63 million bags by June last year has been revised downwards by 5.6 million bags, Mudavadi said.
The failure of the short rains (October to December) in many parts of Tanzania, and a likely delay of long rains (April-June) is said to have put up to 300,000 people in the country at great risk of starvation.
While government authorities in Dar es Salaam say that they are still counting losses and the actual impact of the dry spell between October and December, between 250,000 and 300,000 people may be threatened by famine.
Press reports say that there are already many pockets of severe famine in 15 out of the country's 20 regions following the worst food shortage in nine years.
The Famine Early Warning System (FEWS) of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) has decribed the Tanzanian weather as the worst in 20 years, with rains as low as 50 percent below normal.
Kampala's authorities say that the dry weather spell was unlikely to affect its coffee crop, which accounts for more than 55 percent of the country's exchange earnings, as long as it does not go beyond March this year.
In Somalia, at least six people were dying daily of malnutrition in the past one month in the country's south, prompting the UN World Food Programme (WFP) to express alarm at the worsening famine in the south.
"Cereal prices are unusually high and livestock prices very low, making it really difficult for pastoral families to cope, while the country's next harvest, expected this month, will be very poor due to late arrival of rains," WFP spokeswoman Michele Quintaglie said on January 19.
"It is going to get worse before it gets better for the people of southern Somalia over the next few months," Quintaglie said.
Drought and famine have also engulfed most areas of northeast Somalia and the breakaway republic of Somaliland in the northwest after an overall failed harvest throughout Somalia, which registered a food shortfall of some 125,000 last year, an Inter-Agency Team visiting the region recently said.
Some 10,000 Somalis moved into neighbouring Ethiopia in search of pasture and food, thereby worsening an already difficult situation in an area where scarcity of food in easter and southeastern regions of Harar and Ogaden.
Last April, WFP urged the international community to donate food for 800,000 Ethiopians threatened with famine after it also entered into an agreement with Ethiopian government to provide 60,000 tonnes of food for the victims of drought in Tigrey and Amhara regions.
An estimated eight million, out of 58 million Ethiopians, face periodical food shortages due to problems caused by deteriorating land and unreliable rainfall.
War-torn southern Sudan also faces looming famine, prompting church and aid agencies to appeal recently for urgent food assistance from the donor community.
Two months ago, WFP reported 350,000 people were at risk of starvation. Recently, it said that 2.6 million people in Sudan were in need of emergency food aid, particularly in the south, where malnutrition rates have increased to 60 percent.
WFP said that although it needs about 10,000 tonnes of food a month to meet the needs of the south, currently they are only able to provide half of that amount.
Meteorologists say the absence of rain is an effect of La Nina, the reverse of the El Nino phenomenon, which led to very high rainfall between October 1997 and March 1998, washing away crops and destroying regional infrastructure.
Copyright (c) 1999 Agence France-Presse
Received by NewsEdge Insight: 01/25/1999 05:43:36
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