From the August 2002 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 49, No. 8)

Hunger in Africa

Southern Africa: Famine's Pall

Julius Dawu, World Press Review correspondent, Harare, Zimbabwe

Famine Malawi
June 2, 2002: Jarson Mphezewa, a farmer in the village of Lovimbi, Malawi, 100 kilometers from Lilongwe, Malawi's capital (Photo: AFP).
The famine facing Southern Africa is a mounting concern in the region, as statistics of the starving have risen to more than 6 million people in Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, and Swaziland. The cost of containing food shortages caused by the combination of poor yields, flash floods, recurrent drought, and warped economic policies is astronomical. The World Food Program estimates that close to 13 million people in the region will need food aid by the end of the year.

“The food crisis facing the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region needs to be tackled resolutely by African leaders as an emergency situation,” warned Mmegi, an independent weekly published in Gabarone, Botswana (May 31-June 6). Reliance on foreign aid was “not a healthy situation,” the paper lamented, but was inevitable given that “some governments in the region abuse food aid for parochial political purposes.”

But while the June World Food Summit in Rome raised hopes of international involvement, Zimbabwe in particular seems likely to gain little in the way of foreign aid. Thanks to poor economic and political policies, this former regional breadbasket has not only dried up but become an interna-tional pariah. Nevertheless, The Chronicle (May 14) dismissed claims that Zimbabwe can no longer produce its own food to avert the famine. “The same zeal and spirit the people of Zimbabwe exhibited during the liberation struggle when they crossed crocodile-infested rivers to go and get guns to fight the Smith regime will guide the new farmer,” wrote the paper.

Dismissing such jingoism, the Daily News (June 10) suggested that the government was the chief architect of the food shortage and that “the tragedy is that it is unwilling to see or acknowledge its authorship of the crisis.” President Robert Mugabe’s presence at the World Food Summit was an example of government hypocrisy, the paper said. Though he is subject to a European Union travel ban, Mugabe gained access to the Rome meeting under a requirement that countries hosting United Nations institutions allow all leaders to attend U.N. meetings.

Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe are the worst-affected countries in the region, and their governments have announced states of emergency. Fears are growing that many people within Southern Africa have already died of starvation. Other countries’ crises have triggered an influx of refugees into South Africa, where they are being received with reluctance.

“It is better to do something within [the affected] countries than to wait for people to cross the borders,” South African Home Affairs spokesman Leslie Mashokwe told Sechaba Ka’Nkosi of the Sunday Times (May 28).

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