While much of the rest of the world feasts over the holiday season, more than nine million southern Africans face an uncertain future in 2006 because WFP lacks the funding to deliver enough food aid to the hungriest in the region.
WFP needs US$77 million immediately to keep providing food aid in Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe – the countries hit hardest by the region’s food crisis – until June 2006, when the next harvest is due.
Lesotho and Swaziland will also receive food aid for the same period.
Most heartbreaking are the children who have no one else to turn to for help.
Mike Sackett, WFP Regional Director for southern Africa
WFP is working to stem the impact of the ‘triple threat’ in southern Africa: the combination of extreme poverty, HIV/AIDS and the weakening capacity of governments to meet the needs of their most vulnerable citizens.
Southern African countries have nine of the 10 highest HIV adult prevalence rates in the world.
“The people who suffer the most when there are food shortages are the children, the sick and the elderly,” said Mike Sackett, WFP Regional Director for southern Africa.
“With so many young children having to fend for themselves and their siblings, there are valid fears for their long-term development and even their survival.”
“This is true also for many people suffering from HIV/AIDS, who need food support as well as anti-retrovirals,” Sackett added.
Southern Africa is suffering from its fourth consecutive year of erratic weather, which means that many small children have been reliant on food aid since they were born.
Children tend to suffer most in any food crisis, as they are more susceptible to malnutrition, which can stunt development.
In addition, millions of children in southern Africa are born with HIV or are orphaned by HIV/AIDS.
“The traditional lean season – from January to March – will be tougher in 2006 than in previous years, as most people affected by drought have already sold off every asset they had to buy food,” Sackett said.
“Maize prices are also extremely high in the affected countries, making it even harder for people with little money.”
“But most heartbreaking are the children who have no one else to turn to for help, who are even left with the responsibility for feeding their younger siblings. If they don’t receive food aid, they may turn to crime or prostitution to earn money to feed themselves. The food we provide can help them to stay in school and get the education they need to get a job later on.”
WFP’s three year food relief project (from January 2005 to December 2007) for the most affected countries in southern Africa requires a total of US$621 million. The current shortfall is US$299 million, including US$77 million needed for January to April 2006.
One of the ways WFP delivers food to children is through school feeding programmes. By providing a nutritious meal every day, these programmes not only attract children to school but help them to concentrate on their studies.
In southern Africa, more than 1.2 million children receive meals in school through WFP.
This year, WFP spent more than US$300 million to deliver food aid to suffering rural communities in southern Africa.
It used US$43 million of that aid money to purchase and ship 270,000 metric tons of grain from South Africa to neighbouring countries as of the end of November.
Cash contributions are essential for local food purchases, which also benefit local economies.
“This year brought dramatic catastrophes in other parts of the world: the tsunami, earthquakes, hurricanes,” Sackett said. “The media played a big role in making the victims’ plight visible and this prompted donations.”
“Southern Africa has been experiencing food crises for many years, so it is often harder to convey the urgency of the needs which are as great here as anywhere else,” he said.