A recent government and UN inter-agency Food and Crop Yields Assessment report indicates that the number of people in need of relief food during the first six months of this year has doubled in comparison with the same period in 2002. The assessment also noted a decline in the nutritional situation of the population, with a marked increase in the number of children being admitted to therapeutic feeding centres in the Ruyigi, Ngozi and Kayanza provinces.
"We are doing everything possible to respond to heightened food needs in the last couple of months, but we simply do not have enough resources to tackle the full magnitude of this crisis," said Mustapha Darboe, WFP's Country Director in Burundi. "Although we have received major donations from the U.S. Government, and the European Commission/ECHO, further contributions from other donors are urgently required. The bottom line is that the number of hungry people has doubled and we don't have enough food."
Food aid donations received so far allow WFP to provide assistance for another four weeks. Therefore immediate pledges of 16,000 tons of cereals, pulses and vegetable oil are urgently required to feed an increasing number of vulnerable people - 1.2 million - until the end of June 2003. The required food aid is valued at US$ 9 million.
Late rains in October 2002 and the early cessation of rains in January 2003 have led to significantly reduced harvests throughout the country. Insecurity is further exacerbating the situation, causing population displacement with loss of life and income, particularly in eastern and southern Burundi.
The report confirms WFP's forecasts of aggravated food shortages in Burundi. In December 2002, WFP appealed for 40,000 MT of relief food to assist the most vulnerable people until April this year.
Although a peace agreement was signed with the Government and rebel forces in December 2002, the recent resumption of serious fighting has greatly compromised the provision of humanitarian assistance to drought-affected populations, while creating additional displaced people also in need of aid. During the first half of February, at least 54,000 people were unable to receive relief food due to insecurity.
The current crisis is also threatening the next agriculture season. As food prices increase due to the scarcity of basic commodities combined with the depreciation of the local currency, hungry populations might resort to eating seeds earmarked for planting -- thus compromising future food production.
In an attempt to offset the consumption of seeds meant for planting, WFP has recently begun distributing 9,356 tonnes of food known as Seed Protection Rations (SPRs) to some 851,520 food insecure people in the country. WFP gives out the SPRs at the same time as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) provides farmers with seeds to be planted in the next season. By preventing the usage of seeds as food, WFP helps ensure that agriculture production is sustained by allowing vulnerable populations to create assets.
"This initiative is key in helping food insecure communities cope with an unpredictable future," said Darboe. "We have to do all we can to prevent food shortages becoming chronic in Burundi."
Over the next two weeks, WFP will distribute the SPRs in the most food insecure provinces throughout the country, including Bubanza, Bujumbura Rural, Ruyigi, Muramvya, Gitega, Kayanza, Kirundo and Ngozi, under this ECHO-financed programme. These provinces have been identified by the Food and Crop Yields Assessment, which was jointly conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture, UNICEF, FAO and WFP, as being amongst the most food insecure.
Due to the escalating demands for emergency food assistance throughout Burundi, and the current funding difficulties, last December WFP was forced to suspend its rehabilitation operations in the northern provinces. The "Food-for-Work" projects engage the population in the reconstruction of basic social infrastructure such as roads, irrigation works, schools and health clinics in exchange for food.
To find out more about growing hunger in Africa and the global campaign to assist more than 38 million people across the continent, go to WFP's "Africa Hunger Alert" webpage. Videos and photos are also available: www.wfp.org/AfricaHungerAlert.
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency. Every year WFP feeds around 80 million people in 82 countries including most of the world's refugees and internally displaced people.
For more information, please contact:
Trevor Rowe, Chief Public Affairs Officer,
WFP Rome, Tel. +39-06-65132602
Brenda Barton, Public Affairs Officer, WFP Nairobi, Tel. +254-2-622594
Christiane Berthiaume, Public Affairs Officer, WFP Geneva, Tel. +41-22-9178564
Jordan Dey, WFP Public Affairs Officer, WFP New York, Tel +1-212-9635196
Mustapha Darboe, Country Director and Representative, WFP Burundi, Tel. +257-225621/224615
Karine Strebelle, Reports and Information Officer, WFP Burundi, Tel. +257-225621/223072, mobile: +257-952014