JOHANNESBURG, 20 June (IRIN) - More than 1.2 million Zambians will require food assistance for the next eight months, a senior official told IRIN on Monday.
"We will need 118,335 mt of cereal to feed the people from 1 July in 27 districts," said Dominiciano Mulenga, national coordinator of Zambia's Disaster Management Unit, after a survey conducted by the Zambia Vulnerability Assessment Committee (VAC) was released. He added that the government was finalising an appeal for food aid.
According to the World Food Programme (WFP), prolonged dry spells during the last growing season reduced crop yields by up to 90 percent in some districts.
WFP said it would need at least US $19 million to support the affected population until the next main harvest in May/June 2006. The Zambian component of the regional Protracted Relief and Rehabilitation (PRRO) operation has a shortfall of $19 million, and a further $6 million is needed for the country programme.
"Curently, the WFP is providing food to over 500,000 people in Zambia and we are seriously under funded, without new donations these vulnerable people already enrolled in WFP assisted projects will not receive food come July," Jo Woods, WFP spokeswoman said.
The VAC survey, which covered 1,688 households in southern Zambia, found that 15.5 percent of children were suffering from malnutrition, while more than half the children aged below five did not have access to a balanced diet.
In the last 12 months the number of children dropping out of school has also increased significantly. "The major reasons cited for leaving school were economic: i.e. failure to raise money for school fees and other requisites," the report commented.
One-fifth of the adult population in the assessed areas was found to have been chronically ill for the past year. "This situation has a potential to adversely impact on food and income sources, especially [since] a sizeable number of the chronically ill were heads of households."
The assessment team noted that communities were adopting coping strategies, including casual labour, dependency on wild fruits, beer brewing, prostitution and the increased sale of bush products, such as bundles of grass and reed mats.
With a reduced output from the 2004/05 harvest, prices of staple food like maize were expected to start rising before August, prompting the assessors to call for urgent interventions in the form of therapeutic and supplementary feeding programmes.
The report recommended the promotion of drought-resistant crops and water-harvesting techniques to address the problem of recurrent droughts and floods, the establishment of microcredit schemes, improvement of procurement and early delivery of inputs, the promotion of organic farming, and the enhancement of agricultural extension services to rural communities.
Nearly one in every five Zambian adults, or 16.5 percent of the population, is HIV-positive; an estimated 300 people die every day from AIDS-related illnesses.
Zambia's health, education and agricultural sectors have been particularly hard hit by HIV/AIDS, leading the government to say recently that it was no longer able to replace the teachers lost to the virus each month. According to the UN Children's Fund, more than 1 million children have been orphaned.
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