10 million people in southern Africa face threat of famine, UN agencies warn

29 May 2002 –

At least 10 million people in southern Africa are threatened by potential famine, two United Nations agencies announced today, urging donors to provide food aid to avert a humanitarian disaster in the region.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) said that millions of people in Malawi, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Swaziland are on the brink of starvation. The overall picture, they cautioned, will become even bleaker when the situations in Zambia and Mozambique are taken into account.

Calling this “one of southern Africa's worst agricultural disasters in a decade,” the agencies blamed the acute food shortages on two successive years of poor harvests caused by natural calamities, coupled with economic crises and the disruption of farming activities in certain areas.

Over the next year, southern Africa will need to import nearly 4 million tons of food to meet the minimum needs of the population. In addition, some 1.2 million tons of emergency food assistances is required to help almost 10 million people in the famine-threatened countries to survive.

The two Rome-based food agencies based their assessments on recent joint UN missions to the affected countries. Given the gravity of the findings, they called on donor governments worldwide to respond quickly and generously with food aid donations to avoid widespread hunger from developing into a humanitarian disaster.

. All of the countries affected in the region are experiencing a combination of problems, including growing unemployment and lack of foreign exchange. The agencies noted that the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS in southern Africa, where infection rates are the highest in the world, makes vulnerability to food shortages all the more deadly.

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