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Vol 43 No 11

Published 31st May 2002


Hungry for change

The famine sweeping Southern Africa threatens several governments – of which Robert Mugabe's is the most vulnerable

Some 20 million people in Southern Africa are at risk from mounting crop failures and food shortages. Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique are the worst hit by a mixture of political and natural disaster. Despite peace hopes in Angola after last month's ceasefire, many in former rebel-held areas now face malnutrition and starvation. This crisis is much worse than that of 1991-92, when the same combination of drought and floods washed the crops away. Then, early warning systems proved effective and a well-organised relief effort swung into action; this year, aid agencies and regional efforts were hindered by several political rows. The crisis threatens several incumbent rulers, notably Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, whose government has been deliberately cutting off food aid to pro-opposition areas. In Malawi, the World Bank encouraged President Bakili Muluzi's government to sell 28,000 tonnes of stored maize ­ just three months before the food crisis hit ­ to repay a commercial bank loan. At the same time, Muluzi's government has been accused of misusing aid funds by the British government, which has frozen development but not emergency assistance this year. The medical relief organisation Médecins Sans Frontières estimates at least 100,000 people are suffering from acute malnutrition in Angola as a row continues between the government and the United Nations over who should be responsible for supplying food to disarmament camps. Zambia faces a chronic foreign exchange shortage; after its disputed election many donors are witholding development funds and Anglo American's attempted pull-out from the Konkola Deep project signals a new crisis of confidence in its copper sector.

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