- Close to two million people in drought-affected Lesotho, Malawi and Swaziland will need emergency aid for yet another period. "Unfortunately the crisis in parts of southern Africa is far from over," the World Food Programme (WFP) said today, appealing for funds to cover the first half of 2005.
The WFP today launched an appeal for US$ 78 million to provide emergency aid to 1.85 million people in the first half of 2005 in three drought-affected southern African states - Lesotho, Malawi and Swaziland. The UN agency is currently assisting hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people in these three countries but will need to "dramatically boost" its emergency operations during the peak "hunger months" ahead of the next harvest in April.
- We had hoped to scale back our activities in 2005 following two massive regional aid operations over the past two years but unfortunately the crisis in parts of southern Africa is far from over, said Mike Sackett, WFP Regional Director for Southern Africa. "Early next year, the lives of almost two million people will be at risk," he added.
All three countries suffered an extremely poor harvest in 2004 because of drought and the exacerbating effects of poverty and HIV/AIDS. Indeed, all three governments have called for international aid - including a recent appeal to donors by the new president of Malawi, Bingu wa Mutharika.
Malawi's cereal crop is estimated to be 17 percent less than the five-year average. The southern districts were particularly badly hit by the late onset of the planting rains and people here have little means of coping with the production failures. Meanwhile, a consortium of aid organisations formed in response a food crisis that enveloped Malawi in 2002 is preparing to scale down its relief programme in the country.
In Lesotho, the 2003 winter harvest failed and improved rains in early 2004 came too late to save this year's maize crop, which is estimated to be 68 percent below the average. The drought in Lesotho started already in 2001. Following food security crisis and a dramatic increase in HIV/AIDS cases, the Maseru government in February this year declared a nation-wide state of emergency.
Meanwhile, food insecure Lowveld areas in Swaziland were hit by both the late start to the rainy season and below normal rainfall overall, resulting in a maize crop that is 30 percent less than the average, according to the latest WFP numbers. Swaziland is also the country worst hit by the AIDS pandemic in the world, where the UN estimates that 40 percent of the adult population is HIV infected.
WFP today required 127,000 metric tons of food aid commodities - valued at US$ 78 million - to meet the emergency needs of drought-affected households in Lesotho, Malawi and Swaziland in the first two quarters of 2005. "Given the lengthy time lag between the confirmation of contributions and actual food distributions, it is crucial that donors start responding immediately," the UN agency said.
- We have to appeal now to ensure that we have the necessary food aid supplies in place in time, said Mr Sackett. "If we were to wait any longer it would be too late - and that would endanger people's lives," he added, in reference to the problems the UN agency often meets when trying to raise money for emergency operations.
At the peak of this operation in early 2005, WFP plans to provide emergency food aid to 1.17 million beneficiaries in Malawi, 510,000 in Lesotho and 168,500 in Swaziland. WFP is also planning to assist hundreds of thousands of other chronically poor and food-insecure people in these three countries in 2005.
Further, in Southern Africa, the agency plans to assist food-insecure people in neighbouring Zambia and Mozambique under a longer-term relief operation. Due to run for three years, this operation is set to target vulnerable people in areas with high prevalence rates of HIV/AIDS and will help to save lives and boost recovery and development.
In the meantime, WFP says it will continue to provide for the needs of the most vulnerable people in Lesotho, Malawi and Swaziland up until the end of December 2004 under its current regional emergency Operation. Also this operation, however, still is under-funded and needs an estimated US$ 17 million to cover regional requirements between October and December 2004.
- Donors have been very generous over the past few years and have helped WFP to avert a humanitarian catastrophe in southern Africa, said Mr Sackett. "But there is no time to rest. The international community must stay focused on the crisis in this region otherwise many of the gains that have been made - and most importantly, lives that have been saved - will be lost."
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