Arusha/Dodoma — East Africa has been warned of imminent food shortages due to the delay or failure of long rains.
The situation is likely to be critical in the next six months, Speaker of the National Assembly Job Ndugai warned in Arusha on Monday evening.
"We are seeing less and less rains this year, and this signals an imminent famine," he said during the launch of the Eastern Africa Parliamentary Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (EAPA-FSN).
He told lawmakers from ten countries that are members of the alliance that should the trend remain unchanged, Tanzania is likely to face food shortages not seen in recent years.
Meanwhile, tThe government said in Parliament yesterday that it had set aside Sh24 billion for the purchase of food that would be distributed to drought-hit areas.
Agriculture deputy minister Omar Mgumba said the government had set aside Sh15 billion through the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) and Sh9 billion through the Cereals and Other Produce Board.
He was responding to a question asked by Ms Pauline Gekul (Babati Urban-CCM), who sought to know to what extent was the government prepared to mitigate the impact of poor rains in the country.
Mr Mgumba said the government was still carrying out a comprehensive analysis of the food situation.
"Our experts are spread all over the country to conduct an in-depth assessment to establish the magnitude of the impact of climate change," he said.
In Arusha, Mr Ndugai said the situation was already worrying in much of the Horn of Africa.
"In northern Kenya, the situation is pathetic," he said, adding that the drought menace has once again hit the entire eastern African region.
As Mr Ndugai spoke, there was no sign the rainy season starting in Arusha and other Northern Zone Region, where long rains normally reach their peak in April.
The weather in Arusha and neighbouring regions remained sunny and dry yesterday, in sharp contrast to the normally cloudy, chilly and rainy conditions from March to May.
As the alliance was being launched at Mount Meru Hotel, the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) said that this year's April was likely to be the driest on record since 1981.
"Rainfall levels through mid-April will likely be amongst the driest on record (since 1981) in some areas," said Mr David Phiri, FAO representative to the African Union.
In Kenya, the country's meteorological department announced yesterday that people should not expect the March-April-May long rains because the season was coming to an end. "There is no immediate rain in the horizon this week and all the signs point to this state persisting to the end of the season," the Met official was quoted by the Daily Nation.
Elsewhere, meteorological experts have blamed persistent drought in eastern Africa to delayed northward movement of the rain-bearing inter-tropical convergence zone (ITCZ).
The zone is a low pressure belt which shifts its position north and south of the equator according the position of the sun. It is here where rain-bearing trade winds converge.
Dr Phiri said at least 7.1 million poor households in eastern Africa are expected to experience food gaps mostly in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia.
Food scarcity will especially hit 12 million internally displaced people in Burundi, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan, and 5.3 million refugees in seven other countries, including Tanzania.
EAPA-FSN, which was formed to spearhead food security in the sub-region, called for increased allocation of resources to the agricultural sector to ensure availability of food.
Mr Mathias Kasamba, a member of the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala), said it was unfortunate that the six East African Community member states spent $2 billion annually to import rice, wheat and maize.