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Millions Of Southern Africans In Food Crisis

Funding Shortfall Edges Millions Of Southern Africans Into Food Crisis, UN Agency Warns

New York, Oct 26 2006 11:00AM

A massive $60-million funding shortfall is forcing food aid cuts to as many as 4.3 million people across southern Africa, particularly HIV/AIDS patients, who remain chronically vulnerable despite this year’s reportedly good harvests, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has warned.

“Here, where HIV prevalence rates are the highest in the world, people are dying of AIDS-related illness when they could have survived for years if they had had enough food to eat,” WFP Regional Director Amir Abdulla said in the agency’s latest update. “Anti-retroviral therapy is not effective on an empty stomach.”

The shortfall comes just as the annual “lean season” approaches, when people have to wait until next March or April for the harvest. Due to a lack of donor support, since September WFP offices across the region have begun to reduce the level of food assistance provided to mother and child nutrition centres, school-feeding projects and patients receiving medication for HIV/AIDS or Tuberculosis.

Countries like Malawi, Namibia and Swaziland are facing severe cuts of between 80 and 100 percent.

“HIV-positive people in poor communities have little or no food at home, because they cannot grow it or pay for it,” Mr. Abdulla said. “If we can help them now, we can avoid a longer drawn-out crisis down the road. Food aid gives them a chance not only to live longer, but also to work and raise their families.”

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In addition to HIV/AIDS, the region suffers from grinding poverty and other diseases like malaria, tuberculosis and pellagra. Despite some abundant rains this year, millions of people were too poor to buy seeds and fertilizers to grow food, or grains once harvested. Some areas still had insufficient rain, or floods that washed out crops.

In Zimbabwe alone, a May 2006 vulnerability assessment identified 1.4 million people as being in critical need of food aid. Yet this month WFP was forced to scale down operations there to roughly half of the 900,000 people it was originally targeting.

More cuts may have to be imposed unless funding improves. WFP needs at least $17 million just to get Zimbabwe through the lean season, when it expects to target some 1.9 million people. The country is one of seven under a regional WFP operation, begun in January 2005 and scheduled to continue through December 2007. The others, facing similar shortfalls, are Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland and Zambia.

At the other end of the continent, WFP reported today that it faces increasing difficulties in providing food aid to Sahrawi refugees living in remote camps near Tindouf in southwest Algeria. “Thousands of refugees depend on external humanitarian assistance to survive,” WFP Country Director for Algeria Marius de Gaay Fortman warned. œWith no donor support, we are simply running out of food to give them.

WFP needs 7,000 metric tons of food worth $5 million in order to continue assistance for the next six months. For 2007, considerable contributions will be required to sustain the food pipeline for the refugees, who fled a territorial conflict with Morocco in 1975.

The agency provides a general food package to 90,000 of the most vulnerable refugees and, until the end of this year, an additional 35,000 rations for families affected by severe floods last February.


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