Johannesburg — A combination of factors including escalating maize prices has almost doubled the number of people in need of food aid to more than 800,000 in Mozambique in the past six months, a food security official told IRIN.
"The findings of our survey indicate that maize prices in some of the drought-affected districts have risen by more than 100 percent," said Marcela Libombo, coordinator of Mozambique's Technical Secretariat for Food Security and Nutrition (SETSAN).
Roughly half the country's 128 districts were covered by the latest SETSAN survey, which updated an earlier assessment in May indicating that 43 percent of this year's maize production had been lost, and identified more than 420,000 people in 35 districts as being in need of food aid. The May survey had also noted that these numbers would increase to more than 580,000 between October and March 2006.
The new findings revealed that 801,000 people in 62 districts would now need humanitarian assistance from November until March next year.
A failed winter crop and the slow response by donors were other factors causing the number of people in need of assistance to surge, said Libombo. Food aid assistance was currently covering only 30 percent of identified beneficiaries.
Underfunding of relief agencies like the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) has been identified as the main reason for the slow response in providing aid. WFP budgeted US $30 million for its feeding programme in Mozambique, but is currently underfunded by $8.9 million and reaching only around one-third of the people known to be in need of assistance in the provinces of Maputo, Gaza, Inhambane, Manica, Sofala and Tete.
"Mozambique is experiencing a serious crisis, as is the rest of southern Africa. Donor funding is urgently required to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe - we have been appealing for additional funds for more than six months," said WFP spokesman Mike Huggins.
Even the government is battling for funds. SETSAN spokesman Gustavo Mahoque said the government had drawn up a contingency plan that would cost $24 million to combat the effects of the drought, but "we only have half the amount at the moment."
"Water, food and agricultural inputs are urgently required," Libombo stressed.
The availability and quality of water has deteriorated, and SETSAN found that in some areas 50 percent of the village hand pumps had broken down. "While there is food available in some markets, it is unaffordable for most people," she commented.
Seed for planting is "almost non-existent, and both private and government institutions are unable to replenish it", according to SETSAN. Government seed fairs targeting 50,000 small-scale farmers would be unable to meet the demand, "which is a matter of great concern, as it will impact on next year's harvest," said Mahoque.
The state-owned news agency, Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique (AIM), said the western province of Tete was worst off, with SETSAN putting the number of drought-affected people at 198,000, followed by the southern provinces of Gaza with 146,000 in need, and Inhambane with 119,000.
Mozambique, along with most parts of southern Africa, is experiencing its fourth consecutive year of drought.
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]