Food Rations Start To Dry Up In Southern Africa

A beneficiary of WFP's food assistance programmes in Zambia.

(Copyright: DSM/Adri Geeve)

Food assistance enables millions of people in southern Africa to cope with the impact of HIV/AIDS, high food prices and natural disasters. But with WFP facing an unprecedented budget shortfall, many risk losing this critical support.

JOHANNESBURG – In arid and semi-arid parts of Mozambique, vulnerable families are struggling to cope with insufficient harvests and reduced relief rations.

In their sandy camp in central Namibia, refugees are surviving on monthly food supplies that no longer meet their basic nutritional needs.

And in flood-ravaged parts of Zambia, families are now receiving much less food from WFP as they struggle to rebuild their lives and their communities.

“We have already had to reduce rations to hundreds of thousands of people across southern Africa because of a lack of funds,” said Mustapha Darboe, WFP Regional Director for Southern, Eastern and Central Africa. “Without new donations, we will soon have to take even harder decisions and make even deeper cuts.”

Dwindling resources

In every country, WFP faces rapidly dwindling resources and the prospect of scaling back many of its planned operations substantially in the coming months – leaving hundreds of thousands more people without the food assistance they need.

The cuts will affect many of the most vulnerable people across the region. As early as October, WFP could be forced to:

  • Provide smaller rations to 250,000 hungry people in drought-affected parts of southern Madagascar
  • Reduce monthly rations to 16,000 refugees in Malawi and further reduce support to 6,500 refugees in Namibia
  • Cut the amount of food provided to 215,000 vulnerable people in Mozambique, including people affected by HIV/AIDS, TB patients and orphans

All of them will end up weaker and more susceptible to disease.

Desperate measures

And there will be longer term consequences too – with boys and girls dropping out of school and parents resorting to more desperate measures to feed their hungry children and malnourished women giving birth to underweight babies.

In a region with such high levels of acute poverty and chronic malnutrition as well as the world highest prevalence rates of HIV, any reduction in WFP assistance will undermine efforts to help countries reduce hunger and poverty and make real progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

“WFP’s projects are designed to help the most vulnerable people and families to survive and thrive – providing them with short-term health and longer term hope,” said Darboe. “But we need the money to do the job and we do not have enough – leaving us with no choice but to cut.”

And just as WFP is starting to scale back its operations, needs in southern Africa are beginning to rise even higher – as the global economic crisis  slashes the value of remittances, swells the ranks of the unemployed and reduces the capacity of governments across the region to fund vital safety net programmes.