James Morris, chief of the World Food Program
The World Food Program has more than doubled its estimate of southern Africa's emergency food aid needs. Much of the additional aid is targeted for Zimbabwe.

World Food Program chief James Morris Wednesday gave the U.N. Security Council a grim assessment of Africa's food crisis.

"The greatest humanitarian crisis we face today is not in Darfur, Afghanistan, or North Korea; it is the gradual disintegration of social structures in southern Africa, and hunger is at the very core of this issue," he said.

Mr. Morris called hunger a symptom of failure, and said the prevalence of hunger is an indicator of the level of social instability in much of Africa.

He said a combination of poor harvests, the AIDS pandemic and Zimbabwe's economic collapse had prompted his agency to dramatically increase its estimate of southern Africa's emergency food needs.

"Earlier this year we estimated about 3.5 million people would need emergency food aid in southern Africa. Today our estimate is that 8.3 million people will need food in large part caused by no rain in the region. More than four million people are at risk in Zimbabwe, 1.6 million in Malawi, 1.2 million in Zambia, and 900,000 in Mozambique," he said.

Several Security Council members focused on Zimbabwe's difficulties. Britain's U.N. ambassador, Emir Jones-Parry, called the case of Zimbabwe particularly distressing, not only because of its economic troubles, but the additional crisis caused by the Harare government's crackdown on the country's poorest communities.

"It is important to realize that this crisis has been caused by the action of the Zimbabwean government," said Mr. Jones-Parry. "It is man-made and not a natural phenomenon. The economic collapse in Zimbabwe is the result of bad policies and bad governance."

Acting U.S. Ambassador Ann Patterson focused in particular on the Zimbabwean government's campaign to demolish low-income housing and unregistered businesses. She noted that the campaign is aggravating an already serious humanitarian crisis.

"We stand ready to assist Zimbabwe with large-scale food assistance, as we did in 2002-2004, but we strongly oppose government policies that are making the problem worse, and we urge the government to end the slum demolition campaign," said Ms. Patterson. "Zimbabwe's self-inflicted economic meltdown affects trade, investment and food security throughout southern Africa."

Food agency chief Morris says he also worries about the persistent use of food as a weapon in Africa's conflicts. As examples, he pointed to Somalia, Angola, northern Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. But he singled out Darfur as the most disturbing example.

Noting that the number of Darfur villagers facing starvation has risen to 3.5 million since the beginning of the year, he said "when hatred strips us of our civility, we are capable of incredible brutality."