Aid agencies warn of Southern Africa food crisis - news from ekklesia

By staff writers
September 8, 2005

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Aid agencies warn of Southern Africa food crisis

-08/09/05

Leading development agency Oxfam has told the worldís wealthy countries that they must act immediately to head off a looming food crisis threatening 10 million people in Southern Africa.

Oxfam and other church and secular aid organisations say that there is a real risk of repeating the mistakes made in the Northern Sahel region (Niger, Senegal, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Burkina Faso), where the famine that has impacted some 5 million people was actually forecast months in advance ñ and then ignored.

In Niger alone, 3.6 million people have been affected, but "[r]ich countries are failing to learn the lessons of the Niger food crisis, as up to 10 million people in southern Africa face food shortages," according to the Oxfam statement.

The agency continues: "Money is desperately needed now so that charities, governments and the United Nations can prevent the crisis from worsening."

Despite reports of drought, crop failure and dwindling food stocks, significant donor funding only arrived in Niger after television crews began filming and children and vulnerable adults began dying.

Aid workers say the cost of responding in Niger was increased because donations arrived so late food had to be flown in instead of trucked overland and many children were so starved they needed expensive therapeutic feeding to recover.

The international Action of Churches Together (ACT) alliance of relief and development organisations has continued to respond to the Niger famine.

Now, the UN is warning that millions of people in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique will face serious shortages after harvests failed, hitting communities already battling the world's highest HIV rates.

AIDS has killed many subsistence farmers and deepening poverty makes buying food almost impossible for families who sold much of what they owned during a similar crisis in 2002.

Although widespread starvation is seen as unlikely, with most families able to get by through harvesting raw fruits, selling property and pulling children from school to save cash, such "coping strategies" will still push them deeper into poverty.

"We're not talking about the same sort of crisis as Niger," Oxfam co-ordinator Neil Townsend told the Reuters news agency. "But the numbers are very alarming. It's not acceptable for us to ignore the suffering of that amount of people and if we did we would be complicit in it."

Both the U.N. World Food Programme and other agencies say they are finding it hard to get the funding to expand distribution, forcing many needy families to do without aid. In parts of the region, handouts have been cut back.

The crisis will likely be at its worst between December and March as limited remaining stocks are exhausted before the 2006 harvest is ready to eat. In parts of the region, village granaries are already empty and some Malawians must brave crocodile-infested waters to retrieve water lilies for food.

Oxfam said it had started distributing food aid in Malawi and would provide support in planting next year's crop in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique as well as food or vouchers for hungry families.

It also wants UN member states to commit an additional one billion US dollars to a permanent emergency fund on top of their current aid contributions, allowing the United Nations to call on money immediately even if donors are slow to respond.

Townsend comments that this sum is equivalent to what wealthy countries already spend on subsidising their own farmers.

He adds: "If they pledged the same amount every year to a permanent emergency fund ... preventable crises like Niger and southern Africa would not happen because money would be available as soon as a country needed it."

[In the UK a collective Disasters Emergency Committee appeal is directing money to Niger. To donate, go to www.dec.org.uk, or call 0870 60 60 900]

Find books now:

Aid agencies warn of Southern Africa food crisis

-08/09/05

Leading development agency Oxfam has told the world's wealthy countries that they must act immediately to head off a looming food crisis threatening 10 million people in Southern Africa.

Oxfam and other church and secular aid organisations say that there is a real risk of repeating the mistakes made in the Northern Sahel region (Niger, Senegal, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Burkina Faso), where the famine that has impacted some 5 million people was actually forecast months in advance - and then ignored.

In Niger alone, 3.6 million people have been affected, but "[r]ich countries are failing to learn the lessons of the Niger food crisis, as up to 10 million people in southern Africa face food shortages," according to the Oxfam statement.

The agency continues: "Money is desperately needed now so that charities, governments and the United Nations can prevent the crisis from worsening."

Despite reports of drought, crop failure and dwindling food stocks, significant donor funding only arrived in Niger after television crews began filming and children and vulnerable adults began dying.

Aid workers say the cost of responding in Niger was increased because donations arrived so late food had to be flown in instead of trucked overland and many children were so starved they needed expensive therapeutic feeding to recover.

The international Action of Churches Together (ACT) alliance of relief and development organisations has continued to respond to the Niger famine.

Now, the UN is warning that millions of people in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique will face serious shortages after harvests failed, hitting communities already battling the world's highest HIV rates.

AIDS has killed many subsistence farmers and deepening poverty makes buying food almost impossible for families who sold much of what they owned during a similar crisis in 2002.

Although widespread starvation is seen as unlikely, with most families able to get by through harvesting raw fruits, selling property and pulling children from school to save cash, such "coping strategies" will still push them deeper into poverty.

"We're not talking about the same sort of crisis as Niger," Oxfam co-ordinator Neil Townsend told the Reuters news agency. "But the numbers are very alarming. It's not acceptable for us to ignore the suffering of that amount of people and if we did we would be complicit in it."

Both the U.N. World Food Programme and other agencies say they are finding it hard to get the funding to expand distribution, forcing many needy families to do without aid. In parts of the region, handouts have been cut back.

The crisis will likely be at its worst between December and March as limited remaining stocks are exhausted before the 2006 harvest is ready to eat. In parts of the region, village granaries are already empty and some Malawians must brave crocodile-infested waters to retrieve water lilies for food.

Oxfam said it had started distributing food aid in Malawi and would provide support in planting next year's crop in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique as well as food or vouchers for hungry families.

It also wants UN member states to commit an additional one billion US dollars to a permanent emergency fund on top of their current aid contributions, allowing the United Nations to call on money immediately even if donors are slow to respond.

Townsend comments that this sum is equivalent to what wealthy countries already spend on subsidising their own farmers.

He adds: "If they pledged the same amount every year to a permanent emergency fund ... preventable crises like Niger and southern Africa would not happen because money would be available as soon as a country needed it."

[In the UK a collective Disasters Emergency Committee appeal is directing money to Niger. To donate, go to www.dec.org.uk, or call 0870 60 60 900]

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