JOHANNESBURG, 18 Jul 2005 (IRIN) - Unless efforts are made to close the gaps in Zambia's maize-deficit areas, the price of mealie-meal will keep on rising, an economic and social justice advocacy group has warned.
More than 1.2 million Zambians were in need of food assistance, according to a Zambia Vulnerability Assessment Committee (VAC) report, and the country needed at least 118,000 mt of cereal to bridge the food gap.
Muweme Muweme, coordinator of the economic and social development research project of the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR), said the price of mealie-meal - Zambia's staple food - has been rising steadily over the past few months.
Pointing to a recent "Basic Needs Basket Survey" by JCTR, which monitors household expenditure on essential food and non-food items, Muweme said that the cost of living had shot up to US $295, with a 25 kg bag of mealie costing at least 25 US cents more than it did the month before.
The minimum monthly salary of a Zambian nurse is about $100, teachers earn around $90, policemen about $82 and security guards around $26. According to the survey, a monthly supply of essential food items costs about $111.
Muweme said an urgent "comprehensive situational assessment to have full and accurate information on maize grain deficit areas, the actual magnitude of the deficit and when exactly stocks from the previous harvest ran out, and how and when any deficits - national or regional within the country - will be met" had to be conducted.
The VAC survey, which covered 1,688 households in southern Zambia, also found that 15.5 percent of children were suffering from malnutrition and school dropouts had increased significantly over the last 12 months.
The Zambian government, which has yet to launch a formal appeal for assistance following this year's poor harvest, said its interventions would not be restricted to food aid but would also tackle child malnutrition and services related to education, health and agriculture.
More than half of Zambia's children aged below five did not have access to a balanced diet and were stunted - one of the highest levels in Africa, according to the UN Children's Fund.
Dominiciano Mulenga, national coordinator of Zambia's Disaster Management Unit, said the agency was preparing a detailed list of food and other requirements for approval by the cabinet, and "we will have a better sense of the funds and the numbers in need in the next few days".
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