BUJUMBURA, The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned today that the lethal combination of poor rains, crop disease and extreme poverty has left 2.2 million Burundians in need of food aid in 2006.
A recent Crop and Food Assessment by the Ministry of Agriculture, WFP, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and Unicef found that poor rainfall is prolonging the annual lean season when many impoverished families are unable to meet their food requirements. The worst-hit areas are in northern Burundi, the country’s former breadbasket and home to tens of thousands of returnees.
“Poor rains and the mosaic plant disease are taking their toll on crops. As a result, it is estimated that, in some areas, the harvest will be just 50 percent of last year’s, and will not cover people’s basic food needs until the next harvest in June,” said Gerard Van Dijk, WFP Country Director in Burundi.
The assessment’s findings underline the problem of chronic hunger as a result of extreme poverty in Burundi, classified as a low-income, food deficit country by the UN. The amount of money families spend on food in Burundi has risen 20 percent from last year while incomes have declined by 35 percent.
“At a time when very welcome steps have been taken on the long road to peace, it is a bitter disappointment that something as simple as the weather still makes the daily life of the average Burundian a constant challenge,” added Van Dijk.
WFP estimates that a total of 72,000 metric tons of food aid is needed to feed more than two million people between now and July, when the next crop comes in. There is a funding gap of up to US$26 million dollars. With several major contributions currently under negotiation, WFP urges their quick confirmation in order to meet the basic needs of the most vulnerable when the crisis peaks in April and May.
Generous donations by the international community to date have provided enough food to cover needs during the lean season - from November to February - but continued and fast support is critical now to ensure food aid right up to the next harvest.
In February alone, WFP will provide some 6,000 tons of food aid for more than 870,000 people in the worst affected areas of the country in coordination with FAO which will be distributing seeds in an effort to ensure a better harvest in June.
“This type of intervention is crucial if we want to bring a more structural solution to the repeated problem of poor harvests. By providing emergency food aid with seeds, our aim is to make sure that seeds are used for planting, and are not eaten,” explained Van Dijk.
In total, WFP through its partner non-governmental organizations distributed more than 70,000 tons of food to more than 1.7 million people in Burundi in 2005. In addition to targeted food rations for the most vulnerable, more than 200 therapeutic and supplemental feeding centres are supplied with WFP food every month throughout the country.
WFP also provides a three-month food ration to Burundian refugees returning from Tanzania; some 68,000 returnees have been assisted in 2005. Through its school feeding programme, WFP provides 108,000 schoolchildren with meals.