ACFOA Council resolution on southern Africa food shortage

Report
from Australian Council for Overseas Aid
Published on 15 Sep 2002
ACFOA Council refers to the 2001 Council Resolutions on Zimbabwe, Debt and HIV/AIDS and notes that:
  • Australian aid to Africa has, in real terms, shrunk to half what it was in 1995-96. For the 2002/3 year, the AusAID regional program allocation is $35 million. In contrast, the UK Government has just announced a 50% increase in its aid to Africa to almost A$3 billion, bringing its aid to 20 times Australia's per capita level. Australia is not on target to meet the Millennium Development Goals in relation to Africa.

  • Australian NGOs now raise more money for Africa than the Government allocation for 2002-03.

  • In this context, the World Food Programme estimates that at least 13 million people need food aid in Africa over the next six months. Without aid, large-scale starvation will occur throughout the region.

  • Several ACFOA members have begun planning a full-scale relief effort in response to this critical shortage of food.

  • Three of the six southern African nations requiring food assistance are participants in the Heavily-Indebted Poor Countries (HIPCs) initiative. Under HIPC, Mozambique pays an affordable $8 million (US) in annual debt service to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Yet, despite HIPC, Zambia and Malawi - both of whose governments have declared national food emergencies -- continue to be saddled with onerous debt payments. Zambia is expected to pay $79 million in debt service this year while Malawi is expected to pay $20 million.

  • Overall, the World Bank, the IMF and creditor nations are demanding $248 million in annual debt repayment from three of the six southern African nations now facing famine. This is more than half the value of the food aid needed to feed the whole region through next March.
ACFOA believes that the children and young people of Zambia, Malawi and other poor African nations already pay a heavy price for servicing national debts often run-up by corrupt and unrepresentative governments. They forgo adequate nutrition, education, health care, and economic opportunity. We cannot now allow them to suffer malnutrition of at worse, starve to death so that debts to wealthy nations and international lending institutions will be repaid. In fact, Malawi President Bakili Muluzi alleges that his country was advised to sell grain reserves in order to meet debt payments, although there is also debate over whether this resulted more from corruption within the Malawian Government. Whatever the truth of the matter, strong and immediate support is needed for debt relief based on HIPC conditions which include recipient governments agreeing to a clear poverty reduction strategy.

Africa has benefited little so far from the emergence of the WTO and trade liberalisation policies. Volatility in commodity market prices and agricultural subsidies in the richer nations have worsened the terms of trade for most African countries, who already faced great difficulties in developing products and services to compete in global export markets. Support for stronger food security measures, access to essential medicines but in particular support for trade related capacity building measures are very important at this time. ACFOA members are supporting these measures through advocacy work with the WTO and the Australian Government. If the Australian Government is to increase its food security support and trade related technical assistance to Africa, this will require additional budgetary resources in the future, unless other areas are cut.

In addition to trade problems, HIV/AIDS is having a devastating effect on food security issues in the current crisis. Of the 40 million HIV-infected people globally, 28.1 million live in Africa. Even the lowest current annual per capita cost of treatment of US$350 in many cases still exceeds annual average per capita income in many of the most seriously affected countries. AIDS used to be mainly an urban problem, but it has now moved out into the countryside of the developing countries, devastating whole farming communities and leaving the impoverished survivors scarcely able to feed themselves. The latest figures issued by the FAO programme on HIV/AIDS on sub-Saharan Africa, the region most seriously devastated by the disease, confirm the widespread repercussions the epidemic has had in the countryside: AIDS has killed some 7 million farm labourers since 1985 in the 25 most seriously affected countries in Africa, and by 2020 could claim a further 16 million victims.

This means that the African countryside is fast being drained of labour. The transfer of agricultural knowledge and know-how, passed down from generation to generation, is interrupted, leaving behind a hungry population of women and children who, in many cases, turn to prostitution as the only way they can manage to feed themselves. This makes it necessary to address the issue by reducing the vulnerability of the people suffering from it. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization recommends investing in rural development to be able to guarantee food security and nutrition for the communities that are having to live with the disease.

RESOLUTION

That ACFOA Council calls on the Australian Government, the IMF and World Bank:

  • to provide substantial emergency funds to ANGOs to meet the current crisis;

  • to place an immediate moratorium on further debt payments by Malawi, Zambia and the other poor nations affected by the food crisis in southern Africa;

  • to help ensure that resources released by debt relief be committed to poverty alleviation through the internationally accepted Poverty Reduction Strategies developed by each country;

  • to increase investment in rural development so as to strengthen food security measures and nutrition for the communities that have to live with HIV/AIDS;

  • to increase trade-related technical assistance and capacity building support to Africa;

  • to strengthen the Global Fund for HIV AIDS.
Moved: Trevor Ole World Vision Australia
Seconded: Ceasar D'Mello National Council of Churches in Australia