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Acute Food Shortages
Chris Mburu, Special Correspondent
Nairobi, February 9, 2004 (The East African) – POOR RAINS last year and in previous years has compromised food security in several countries in the Greater Horn of Africa (GHA), increasing the number of people facing food shortages to an estimated 13 million.
Worsening the situation are political conflicts and the HIV/Aids pandemic, policy issues, inefficient markets and disruption of alternative sources of food and income, says the current issue of the GHA Food Security Bulletin.
The bulletin is a collaborative initiative of the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, the Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development, the Desert Locust Control Organization, the Livestock Early Warning System, the US Geological Survey, the World Food Programme and the US Agency for International Development.
The bulletin says that, in Ethiopia, for example, despite a commendable international response to food and non-food appeals in 2003, the combination of drought and other vulnerability factors has left between seven and eight million people, mostly in the eastern highlands and pastoral areas, dependent on relief assistance in 2004. Timely delivery of relief interventions will be important to save lives and protect livelihoods, says the bulletin.
It says that prospects of improved food security in the coming months are uncertain following forecasts of below average harvests from the 2003/04 short rains. The poor harvest prospects are likely to prolong humanitarian needs through much of 2004.
Although much of Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, southern Uganda and western Kenya are likely to receive near to above-normal rainfall in February 2004, the rest of the sub-region - the northern parts of Kenya and Uganda and most of Somalia, Eriteria, Ethiopia and Sudan - is likely to experience generally dry conditions, says Prof Laban Ogolla of the Drought Monitoring Centre in Nairobi.
The government of Kenya is distributing 19,283 tonnes of food aid to 1.2 million people affected by drought in the North Rift and Coast Province. But lack of sufficient reserve stocks will limit the government's capacity to continue distributing relief food beyond March 2003, and donor interventions are required, says the bulletin.
Between June and August 2003, it says, delayed harvests in key maize producing regions in Kenya produced a national deficit, leading to a price rise in the local market. Kisumu recorded maize price increases of up to 70 per cent, compared with prices in Mwanza (Tanzania) and Kampala (Uganda). As a result, food flows from Tanzania to Kenya occurred in spite of existing localized food deficits and higher prices in Tanzania.
Interventions for some two million drought victims in Tanzania since 2003 have remained inadequate; only 52 per cent of the government's planned subsidized maize sales have been met. Food access for two million people is uncertain unless additional quantities are delivered soon.
Distribution of food aid to 35,000 people in central Rwanda is going on, but the poor performance of the September-December 2003 season might increase the number of those needing humanitarian support to 300,000 before the June 2004 harvest.
In Ethiopia, the Meher harvest, although much better than that of last year, will still be in the average range of 8.7 to 11.2 million tones.
In Eritrea, 1.2 million drought victims require immediate humanitarian assistance, but pledges are short of the needs.
Successive seasons of rainfall failure in the Sool Plateau in Somalia are threatening pastoralists.
Increased humanitarian assistance is needed for internally displaced persons due to insecurity in Burundi, DRC, Somalia and Sudan. In Darfur (western Sudan), fighting erupted again after the end of a ceasefire in December 2003, escalating displacements, disrupting markets and humanitarian activities. An emerging conflict between Somaliland and Puntland is aggravating food insecurity among households in drought-affected northern Somalia.
Due to low rains last year, food prices are notably higher in most markets in GHA countries. Significantly, higher prices have been noted in Tanzania's Central and Lake Regions, with prices increasing by 50-100 per cent over their 1997-2001 averages.
The prevailing drought conditions undermine the terms of trade of pastoralists in Eritrea and Somalia. The closing of the livestock market in Garissa, Kenya, in October 2003 has disrupted cross-border trade between Kenya and Somalia, worsening the food security of pastoralists.
However, a favourable rainfall performance in 2003 would improve food security in 2004 in southern Sudan, much of Rwanda and Uganda, and eastern region and highlands of Kenya.
The unseasonably above-normal rainfall in January 2004 over southeastern Kenya and northeastern Tanzania (Mt Kilimanjaro area) will improve pasture and water sources for livestock.