JOHANNESBURG - The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today launched an appeal for US$78 million to provide emergency aid to 1.85 million people in the first half of 2005 in three drought-affected southern African states - Lesotho, Malawi and Swaziland.
WFP is currently assisting hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people in these three countries but will need to dramatically boost its emergency operations - during the peak ‘hunger months' ahead of the next harvest in April.
"We had hoped to scale back our activities in 2005 following two massive regional aid operations over the past two years but unfortunately the crisis in parts of southern Africa is far from over," said Mike Sackett, WFP Regional Director for Southern Africa. "Early next year, the lives of almost two million people will be at risk. The international community has helped many of these people to survive before - we cannot turn our backs on them now."
All three countries suffered an extremely poor harvest in 2004 because of drought and the exacerbating effects of poverty and HIV/AIDS. Indeed, all three governments have called for international aid - including a recent appeal to donors by the new president of Malawi.
Malawi's cereal crop is estimated to be 17 percent less than the five-year average, with southern districts particularly badly hit by the late onset of the planting rains. In Lesotho, the 2003 winter harvest failed and improved rains in early 2004 came too late to save this year's maize crop, which is estimated to be 68 percent below the average. Meanwhile, food insecure Lowveld areas in Swaziland were hit by both the late start to the rainy season and below normal rainfall overall, resulting in a maize crop that is 30 percent less than the average.
WFP requires 127,000 metric tons of food aid commodities - valued at US$78 million - to meet the emergency needs of drought-affected households in Lesotho, Malawi and Swaziland in the first two quarters of 2005. Given the lengthy time lag between the confirmation of contributions and actual food distributions, it is crucial that donors start responding immediately.
"We have to appeal now to ensure that we have the necessary food aid supplies in place in time," said Sackett. "If we were to wait any longer it would be too late - and that would endanger people's lives."
At the peak of this operation in early 2005, WFP will be providing emergency food aid to 1.17 million beneficiaries in Malawi, 510,000 in Lesotho and 168,500 in Swaziland.
WFP is also planning to assist hundreds of thousands of other chronically poor and food-insecure people in these three countries in 2005, as well as in neighbouring Zambia and Mozambique, under a longer-term relief and recovery operation. Due to run for three years, this operation will target vulnerable people in areas with high prevalence rates of HIV/AIDS and will help to save lives and boost recovery and development.
In the meantime, WFP will continue to provide for the needs of the most vulnerable people in Lesotho, Malawi and Swaziland up until the end of December 2004 under its current regional Emergency Operation.
This operation still requires an additional 32,000 tons of food - valued at US$17 million - to cover regional requirements between October and December 2004.
"Donors have been very generous over the past few years and have helped WFP to avert a humanitarian catastrophe in southern Africa," said Sackett. "But there is no time to rest. The international community must stay focused on the crisis in this region otherwise many of the gains that have been made - and most importantly, lives that have been saved - will be lost."
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: in 2003 we gave food aid to a record 104 million people in 81 countries, including 56 million hungry children.
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Deputy Director Communications