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Funding shortfall forces WFP to cut back feeding

[Malawi] Children queue at a WFP school-feeding programme in Malawi's southern Thyolo district. [Date picture taken: 2005/10/05] IRIN
The move could jeopardise the efforts of CBOs
The UN's World Food Programme has warned that it will have to cut back on feeding vulnerable Southern Africans because it does not have the funds to carry programmes through the lean season.

The aid agency will be facing a regional shortfall of US$60 million between December 2006 and March 2007, and has already scaled down some of its operations in Zimbabwe, affecting some 450,000 people. It has cut back the urban feeding programme, reduced school-feeding projects from 17 districts to 14, and suspended mobile feeding in rural areas.

WFP is expected to feed at least four million people in the region until March next year, when the next harvest is due.

Underlining the lack of donor response, WFP's regional director for Southern Africa, Amir Abdulla, commented, "Needs in other parts of the world, as in Darfur, are very pressing [and] perhaps more visible ... the tragedy is being played on TV every night ... the sad truth is that in the Southern African context, people will die because they did not get food to eat, but they will be recorded as deaths due to AIDS-related illnesses in clinics."

He said the agency had been scaling down its operations throughout the year to ensure it had food pipelines open in the region until the end of 2006, but "further reductions in operations may have to take place if resources do not improve."

Zimbabwe and Swaziland have been identified as the most vulnerable countries, in a region which overall has seen good rainfall this year.

The May 2006 Zimbabwe Vulnerability assessment, yet to be released, identified 1.4 million people as critically in need of food assistance. WFP requires at least $17 million just to get Zimbabwe through the lean season between harvests.

Chronic food insecurity has persisted in Swaziland, which has the world's highest HIV infection rate. Poverty has been exacerbated by retrenchments in the textile industry, and the South African mines, where generations of Swazi men have toiled.

Last year's hotspot, Malawi, despite having recorded its best harvest in five years, still has at least 833,000 people in need of food aid, as some of its districts had a poor season.

But a good overall crop has given Malawi time to explore ways to achieve food security. "Last year's drought, which left almost five million Malawians in need, was an eye-opener for the government. They are seriously considering irrigation schemes and pursuing farming input programmes," said Evance Chapasuka, deputy director of the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, a US-funded organisation that monitors food security.

Abdulla pointed out that donors had to appreciate that food aid helped to protect "people's coping mechanisms". WFP's development aid temporarily freed the poor of the need to provide food for their families, giving them time and resources to invest in lasting assets such as better houses, clinics and schools, new agricultural skills and technology.

Abdulla stressed that although the region had emerged from a five-year dry spell, it had to be prepared. "Weather patterns indicate that there will be another period of drought."

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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