The United Nations World Food Program says at least 8.5 million people in southern Africa will require food assistance by the beginning of next year unless urgently needed funds are made available. WFP says food problems in the area are being made worse by the high rate of HIV/AIDS in the region.
The World Food Program has been concerned about the situation in southern Africa since June when it carried out its last assessment of the food situation of the countries in the region. It appeared clear then the region was headed towards another massive food shortage by the end of the year.
WFP spokesman Mike Huggins, who is based in Johannesburg and regularly visits the countries involved, says several million people are already receiving WFP food aid at the moment. But the number, he says, is expected to reach at least 8.5 million by early next year.
"Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Zambia are all right now experiencing food shortages. Part of it of course, its not only that these countries were unable to grow enough for themselves this year but the situation is being compounded by HIV/AIDS in the region," said Mr. Huggins. "Southern Africa has nine of the 10 highest rates in the world and as a result many families and small communities are not able to access the resources required to plant food because they're already spending that money and other assets on funerals or medicines."
Mr. Huggins says some donors have shown interest in the plight of people in southern Africa but this has not really materialized into the money required to keep the programs in the region moving forward.
"Our biggest problem that we face right now is a large funding shortage," added Mr. Huggins. "We need $191 million to maintain our current programs and to increase them during the lean season when the majority of people are going to find themselves short of food."
The United Nations has also warned of dire food shortages in Western Africa, saying donors are not responding to appeals for help. It said its $88 million food appeal for Malawi has not received a single penny.
Last month U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan wrote to 27 heads of state, the European Commission and the African Development Bank saying that urgent funding was required to "avert a catastrophe".