As southern Africa faces hungry holiday season UN agencies call for urgent

As more than 9 million southern Africans face hunger over the holiday season while much of the rest of the world feasts, United Nations agencies today pleaded for immediate donor aid to continue feeding the hungriest. The UN World Food Programme (WFP), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Zambian Government appealed for $8.5 million to provide food aid for up to 82,000 Angolan and Congolese refugees in Zambia facing a ration cut of 50 per cent as of 1 January. Overall WFP needs $77 million immediately to keep providing food aid in Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe – the countries hit hardest by the region’s weather-induced food crisis – until June 2006, when the next harvest is due. “This is certainly not our preferred course of action,” WFP Zambia Country Director David Stevenson said of the plan to halve the refugees’ rations in order to assure some level of food assistance in the months ahead.“We simply have no choice. Although we had a stable pipeline for refugees through to December this year, we have received no contributions for 2006. This is an extremely serious situation as these refugees live in camps and settlements in remote areas of Zambia and rely entirely on WFP for their food supplies,” he added. UNHCR regional representative in Zambia Ahmed Said Farah warned: “There will be increased morbidity, mortality and stunted growth. Social problems, such as prostitution and child labour, will increase and refugees may become uncontrollable as a result of the food cuts.”WFP is working to stem the impact of the ‘triple threat’ in southern Africa: the combination of extreme poverty, HIV/AIDS and the weakening capacity of governments to meet the needs of their most vulnerable citizens. Southern African countries have nine of the 10 highest HIV adult prevalence rates in the world. “The people who suffer the most when there are food shortages are the children, the sick and the elderly,” WFP Regional Director for southern Africa Mike Sackett said. Southern Africa is suffering from its fourth consecutive year of erratic weather, which means that many small children have been reliant on food aid since they were born. WFP’s three year food relief project (from January 2005 to December 2007) requires $621 million. The current shortfall is $299 million, including the $77 million needed for January to April 2006. Further to the north in Kenya, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has re-issued a $4 million emergency appeal it first made in October to aid thousands of children facing malnutrition due to deepening drought.“Given that situation can only get worse, it is imperative that all partners and the government act swiftly to protect the most vulnerable children and women,” UNICEF Kenya Representative Heimo Laakkonen said. WFP has already more than doubled its estimate of the number of people needing food aid to about 2.5 million. read more