WFP urges more funding to save lives in southern Africa

Published on 11 January 2005

In a bid to boost contributions to its chronically under-funded operation in southern Africa, WFP has urged all countries, including traditional and non-traditional donors from the European Community as well as oil-producing states, to help the hungry people of southern Africa – millions of whom are struggling to find food for even one meal a day.

The children of southern Africa need help now - before their tiny emaciated bodies appear on television screens

Mike Sackett, WFP Regional Director for Southern Africa

“Governments have the financial power to save lives in southern Africa,” said Mike Sackett, WFP Regional Director for Southern Africa, who has travelled to the heart of Europe to drive his message home.

“However, some governments have yet to make a contribution to the regional operation or are simply undecided – faced with competing humanitarian disasters. The children of southern Africa need help now - before their tiny emaciated bodies appear on television screens.”

Food assistance needed urgently

At least 9.7 million people in Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe require urgent food assistance through to April 2006.

Unless donors step forward with cash contributions to plug WFP’s immediate shortfall of US$ 157 million, many people will not receive help in time.

No funds from oil-rich states

“The United States is by far the biggest donor to WFP’s operations in southern Africa, giving more than US$104 million this year, while members of the European Union have given US$64 million,” Sackett said.

“No funds have yet been pledged by the oil-rich states to our current regional appeal – even though oil prices have been reaching record highs for most of this year.”

Fourth year of food shortages

No funds have yet been pledged by the oil-rich states to our appeal – even though oil prices have been reaching record highs for most of this year

Mike Sackett, WFP Regional Director for Southern Africa

Southern Africa is experiencing its fourth consecutive year of food shortages, exacerbated by crushing poverty and the world’s highest rates of HIV/AIDS. Many people’s problems are further compounded by recent hikes in the price of maize and other staple commodities.

Prices usually rise during the lean season – from December to the March/April harvest – when maize is scarcest on the market and people have consumed their own reserves – but this year the lean season started in August, and now food in not only in short supply, but also largely unaffordable.

The outlook in August was already so bleak in southern Africa that UN Secretary General Kofi Annan wrote to 27 Heads of State, the European Commission and the African Development Bank to raise the alarm about urgent funding to “avert a catastrophe.”

Hand-to-mouth existence

Many people in rural communities are now living a hand-to-mouth existence, eating wild foods which amount to little more than fibrous seed pods and nuts from certain trees.

Across the region there have been reports of people dying as a result of eating poisonous wild foods – some are toxic unless cooked for many hours.

Harshest months ahead

“People are struggling to survive and the harshest months are still ahead,” Sackett said. “It’s tragic that there is so much wealth in the world but so little of it is ever shared with those whose very existence depends upon it.”

“WFP can save lives in southern Africa for just US$2.50 per person per month,” Sackett added. “The fact is that there are nearly 10 million people in the region who need help over the next six months.

"This adds up to a considerable sum of money which only governments are in a position to find.”