Food shortages prompt massive US donation for southern Africa

Published on 15 August 2005

Johannesburg WFP applauds the United States for making an early and generous donation of more than US$50 million to the agency\'s feeding programmes in southern Africa where more than 10 million people are in urgent need of food assistance.


WFP today applauded the United States for making an early and generous donation of more than US$50 million to the agency's feeding programmes in southern Africa where more than 10 million people are in urgent need of food assistance.

The $51.8 million donation, the second biggest contribution ever made to WFP for its operations in southern Africa, will give WFP the opportunity to get food to the neediest people, including those affected by HIV/AIDS, before the lean season starts in December.

"It can take up to four months to get food to the most vulnerable - and as we are seeing yet again in West Africa, the world cannot afford to wait until the last minute to pledge support," said WFP Executive Director James Morris. "By stepping in early with such a sizeable donation, the United States is among the first donors to enable WFP to respond effectively to the needs of millions of people, especially vulnerable children, before their needs become critical."

Recent food and crop assessments by the United Nations, non-government organisations, and Governments revealed that at least as 10.7 million people in southern Africa may need help to obtain food over the year ahead, particularly if governments are not able to maintain minimum maize prices for the poorest people.

WFP is planning to assist more than eight million people worst affected by the prolonged dry spell that destroyed much of this season's harvest across the region. The situation for many people in southern Africa is compounded by the world's highest HIV/AIDS adult prevalence rates, rapidly increasing numbers of orphans, chronic poverty, and a weakened ability for governments to respond to the crisis.

"Because of the sheer magnitude of the pandemic in southern Africa, HIV/AIDS has a direct negative impact on peoples' ability to grow food themselves, children tend to drop out of school to work the land or earn money to support family members stricken with the virus, and slowly but surely societies begin to unravel," Morris said. "Timely international support is critical to helping millions of children survive some of the worst imaginable scenarios."

WFP's operations in southern Africa are drastically underfunded. Even after the generous US contribution, the agency needs $212 million through to March 2006 to support people whose crops failed this year, children in school, people suffering the effects of HIV/AIDS, and nutrition programmes for pregnant and lactating mothers through.

The most acute need for assistance is in the December-March lean season when households traditionally have limited access to food stocks and lack the money to buy food, even if it is available. Food shortages are so severe in most countries that some people have already eaten whatever they were able to harvest.

The US donation includes wheat, maize meal, cooking oil, sorghum, and pulses such as split peas and beans.

At the height of the 2006 lean season, WFP needs to feed 245,00 people in Lesotho, 2 million in Malawi, 850,000 in Mozambique, 230,000 in Swaziland, 1.2 million in Zambia, and just over 4 million people in Zimbabwe. However, the agency's ability to carry out these operations entirely depends upon voluntary contributions from the international community.

The threat posed by the food shortages is considered so serious that UN Secretary General Kofi Annan last week wrote to 27 Heads of State as well as the African Development Bank and the European Union to alert them to the fact that millions of people will go hungry in southern Africa unless donations are immediately made.

"We always raise the alarm in plenty of time, but it's rare to receive enough food to cover critical food needs at the right time. We are always behind the ball trying to reach people in need," Morris said. "Timely contributions like the one given by the United States go a long way to helping hungry people before they become starving people."

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: each year, we give food to an average of 90 million poor people to meet their nutritional needs, including 56 million hungry children, in at least 80 of the world's poorest countries. WFP -- We Feed People.

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