The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has declared its highest-level emergency in drought-stricken southern Africa and is appealing for US$204 million immediately to purchase and transport food to the region to help millions of hungry people.
WFP executive director Ertharin Cousin on Tuesday told reporters in a telephone briefing from hard-hit Malawi that the El Nino-induced drought — which also affected South America and Ethiopia — has devastated crops and caused harvests to fail in southern Africa.
She said 18 million people need emergency food assistance in seven nations severely affected by El Nino: Lesotho, Madagascar, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi.
However, Cousin said that the WFP is anticipating an escalation in needs later this year and estimating that approximately 33 million people would be impacted by El Nino and the upcoming La Nina, which could bring severe flooding.
“This year’s crisis is a food availability problem,” she said. “We’re seeing alarming increases in people facing hunger in several countries.”
Cousin pointed to a more than 150 percent increase in people without enough to eat in Malawi — from 2.83 million in need last year to 6.5 million this year — as well as a 99 percent increase in Swaziland and a 53 percent increase in Lesotho.
She said the UN agency will be working to assist 11.5 million people in the seven countries by the end of March next year.
That will require US$549 million — including US$204 million for immediate needs and to set up a pipeline to scale-up the operation as the region goes into the rainy season in October, she said.
“The message today is we have a drought ... but we have an opportunity to prevent this drought becoming a severe crisis if we get out ahead of it and provide the food that is required,” Cousin said.
“Malnutrition rates are climbing. ... We don’t have people starving yet because of the lack of food. We are hopeful that we can bring the attention necessary and receive resources so nobody starves,” she said.
Cousin said that the WFP declared southern Africa a level three emergency — its highest level — late last month “because this is primarily a food security crisis.’’
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