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Southern Africa Faces Food Shortage, Says WFP - 2003-09-26

The U.N. World Food Program says millions of people in southern Africa could run out of food as early as next month because of what it calls "a funding crisis." The agency says it needs $235 million in order to keep the food flowing into areas experiencing a third year of food shortages.

The World Food Program says its lack of funds threatens food supplies to millions of people throughout southern Africa, especially in Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

WFP southern Africa regional director Mike Sackett says in July, the agency appealed for $308 million from the international community to pay for the region's needs through the next year. So far, he says, the agency has received less than a quarter of what it needs.

"What we're finding is, in Zimbabwe where four million people are going to be dependent on WFP food, by December we will have exhausted the food we have available," he said. "In Mozambique we're already running into difficulties as early as October. So really we're reminding the international community of our needs."

Six countries in southern Africa have suffered from severe drought-induced food shortages for the last two years. At the peak of the food crisis, the World Food Program was feeding some 14 million people in the region.

As the rains have returned this year, the situation has improved significantly in several countries, most notably Zambia and Malawi. But Mr. Sackett says things have gotten worse in southern Mozambique.

"Southern Mozambique was badly affected by dry weather in the period January through March this year, and their situation in 2003 is worse than in 2002," said Mr. Sackett. "We believe that about 900,000 people are vulnerable in Mozambique this year, compared with half that number in 2002."

But the country needing the most help is Zimbabwe. Mr. Sackett says the World Food Program plans to pour two thirds of its aid resources into Zimbabwe, which will have a grain shortfall of about a million tons this year. He says many factors have contributed to the continued food crisis there, including bad weather, what he calls governance issues, and the total collapse of the Zimbabwean economy.

The foreign exchange constraints are such that the Grain Marketing Board will find it very hard to bring in anything like the quantity required," he said. "And WFP plans to meet approximately half of the food gap, provided we get the resources from donors, which we do not have so far."

One key development is a memorandum of understanding signed Thursday between the World Food Program and the Zimbabwean government. It ensures that the U.N. agency will be able to continue distributing food in Zimbabwe through a network of 13 non-governmental organizations.

Mr. Sackett says a Zimbabwean policy on such organizations had appeared to threaten the WFP food distribution system. The government last month said only officials would be allowed to distribute food. But the new memorandum has guaranteed that the agency will still use its non-government partners for distribution, as it has been doing for the last two years.

Local relief workers say the issue contributed to the WFP fundraising crisis because some major international donors were refusing to give aid to Zimbabwe if they were not sure the food would be fairly distributed through independent aid groups.