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Serious food shortages persist in Sub-Saharan Africa, says UN FAO: More than 18 million people in East Africa depend on food aid

News and Press Release
Originally published
Press Release 01/22
Food Supply for 2001 Expected to be "Very Tight"

Nairobi, 9 April 2001- Warning of a generally unfavourable food outlook in sub-Saharan Africa for 2001, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said, "The number of people facing severe food shortages is now estimated at some 28 million, of whom 18 million or 64 percent are in eastern Africa." Altogether, 16 countries in the region face exceptional food emergencies.* That was the stark message of the Organization's FOOD SUPPLY SITUATION AND CROP PROSPECTS IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA, released at a news conference here today.

According to the report, "Continued food assistance is necessary in all countries of eastern Africa and the Great Lakes region as well as in Angola, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone."

The report also said, "Food production in southern Africa is projected to decline sharply, mainly due to adverse weather, while civil strife continues to disrupt food production in Angola, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Sudan."

The UN food agency called on the international community to provide substantial financial assistance for agricultural rehabilitation and repair of infrastructure in Mozambique, which suffered severe damage from flooding during the last two years. The report said Liberia, Rwanda, Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone would need sustained assistance to rehabilitate their agricultural sectors following prolonged civil strife.

"In Kenya, the severe drought in 1999/2000 seriously undermined the food security of nearly 4.4 million people and resulted in a massive relief operation. Despite some improvement, the food supply situation is still precarious," the report says. In the northern pastoral districts, where severe shortages of water and pasture resulted in large livestock losses, the failure of this winter's short rains season has exacerbated widespread food insecurity.

Elsewhere in eastern Africa, the report says, the food supply situation is precarious for more than 1.8 million people in Eritrea caught up in the war with neighbouring Ethiopia. Some are also suffering from the effects of last year's drought in some areas. In Ethiopia, despite the improved overall food availability, some 6.5 million people affected by successive droughts and war depend on food aid. Pastoralists in the southeastern part of the country have been the worst hit.

Sudan is also facing serious food shortages in western and southern parts of the country due to drought, the report says. "The long-running civil war is exacerbating the situation by impeding farming activities and distribution of relief assistance."

Somalia has seen a satisfactory secondary season harvest, which was preceded by a favourable main harvest and this, says the report, "has improved the country's food outlook. Consequently, the number of people in need of food assistance has declined from 750,000 in 2000 to 500,000 this year. However, recent nutrition surveys indicate persisting high malnutrition rates, reflecting slow household recovery from a succession of droughts and long-term effects of years of insecurity."

The report calls the food outlook in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) "bleak" and says that food assistance is still needed elsewhere in the Great Lakes, including Burundi and Rwanda. The DRC has some 2 million internally displaced people and additional 333,000 refugees, mainly from Angola. The number continues to rise as fighting flares up in both countries, with serious nutritional and health consequences. The food problems have been further aggravated by the outbreak and spread of cassava mosaic virus, which has seriously affected the staple crop, particularly in eastern parts of the country. The food situation is also extremely tight in urban areas, mainly Kinshasa, where the number of vulnerable people has increased, according to the report.

In southern Africa, the report forecasts a sharp fall in cereal production for 2001, mainly because of a prolonged mid-season dry spell and subsequent excessive rains that damaged food crops in most countries. In South Africa, low maize prices at sowing time contributed to lower planting, while in Zimbabwe resettlement of large-scale commercial farms will be a contributing factor to reduced production. The latest FAO forecast for the maize crop, points to a decrease of 27 percent compared to last year. Maize accounts for 75 percent of cereal production in southern Africa.

The sharp decline in maize production in South Africa, officially forecast at nearly 34 percent from last year, will mean a considerable reduction in its exportable surplus. According to the report, neighbouring food-deficit countries may need to source their grain requirements from outside the sub-region.

In parts of Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe about 960,000 people have had their lives disrupted by severe floods. Damage to infrastructure and housing as well as crop losses are reported. The damage is particularly serious in Mozambique, along the Zambezi River basin, says the report.

In the Sahel, the food supply situation has tightened in parts, following reduced harvests, notably in Burkina Faso, Chad and Niger. Food distributions to the affected populations are underway and the governments have appealed to donors for assistance. Sierra Leone and Liberia remain heavily dependent on international food aid, despite some improvement in food production, while Guinea is faced with rebel attacks in border areas, which are affecting agricultural activities and have caused new population displacements.

Overall, sub-Saharan Africa's cereal import requirements are projected to remain high in 2001. The report says this is because of the effects of drought last year in eastern Africa, reduced harvests in parts of the Sahel and an expected sharp drop in production in southern Africa.

*The 16 countries facing exceptional food emergencies are: Angola, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.

While FAO's Global Information and Early Warning Service monitors the food and crop situation in sub-Saharan Africa, the Organization's Special Relief Operations Service provides assistance to people affected by natural and man-made disasters. The Special Relief Operations Service is at work in a number of countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including Angola, Burundi, Congo, Ethiopia, Horn of Africa, Great Lakes and Central Africa, Somalia and Sudan. The Service provides assistance to the livestock and agriculture sectors to get food production up and working as soon as possible following a disaster. The aim is to ensure that the population can feed itself again as quickly as possible


For additional information, please contact:

Paul Fouda-Onambele
FAO Regional Information Officer for Africa
Telephone: +(254-2) 624594