Severe drought grips southern Africa

THE ELEVEN countries in southern Africa, with a population of over 120 million, are in the midst of a drought of unprecedented severity in the region, mainly due to the failure of last year's rains. The UN World Food Programme has estimated that about 18 million people in the region outside South Africa face the direct threat of death by starvation.

All of Zambia and Zimbabwe have been declared national disaster areas, as has the Toliara province in the island nation of Madagascar. UNDP representatives believe Malawi, Mozambique and Namibia may also follow suit. Even prosperous South Africa is this year expected to import five million tonnes of the cornmeal it normally exports. Zimbabwe's cotton exports this year are 70 per cent lower than the average annual yield and the World Bank estimates that half of Zambia's maize requirements will have to be imported.

The causes of drought have definitely been exacerbated by mismanagement and war. Large areas of Limpopo valley in Mozambique, once a major farming region, have increased soil salination caused primarily by mismanagement of the irrigation system. Today, international aid agencies estimate that over 3 million people in Mozambique need emergency relief. In late July, the Mozambique National Resistance Movement, known as RENAMO, agreed at a meeting in Rome to permit relief workers "free circulation."

Earlier this year, the international community pledged US $526 million in aid to southern African drought victims, just 60 per cent of the total estimated requirement. The famine threatening the continent is the worst this century, and could make the toll of one million during the 1985 Ethiopian famine pale into a minor problem in comparison.

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