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Conflicts Hinder Relief Efforts in Sub-Saharan Africa, UN Official

U.N. World Food Programme Director Ertharin Cousin.
(File photo).

U.N. World Food Programme Director Ertharin Cousin. (File photo).

World Food Programme Executive Director Ertharin Cousin says it is sad that peace remains elusive in some parts of sub-Saharan Africa where conflict is preventing the WFP from fully assisting people in dire need resulting in unnecessary deaths, pain and suffering.

Cousin, who wrapped up a three-day visit to Zimbabwe Friday, said of particular concern to the WFP were conflicts in the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Somalia that have forced the United Nations agency to scale back or suspend resilience-building activities to focus on emergency feeding.

“Conflict is definitely an issue,” she told VOA from Harare. “You cannot have food security, you cannot have nutrition security without peace. When there’s conflict there is no opportunity for people to benefit from the opportunity to increase their yields if they’re taking refuge for their lives.”

“To ensure that we end hunger on the continent, we need to have stability,” said Cousin.

She said the global community has the tools to make this generation the last generation of hungry people in the world.

Cousin said 60 percent of the WFP’s programs are in Sub-Saharan Africa, adding the agency is seeing an increased need for assistance in the Sahel region, South Sudan, CAR and the Horn of Africa region.

“So we are providing significant support across the continent,” she said. “But the other challenge in Africa is that where there’s peace we do not have the investment capital that’s necessary to support the bringing together of all the tools to ensure that we create the development activities that we are talking about in these areas. So we need donor investment both from the public sector and the private sector to help us so we can have the greatest impact.”

Turning to Zimbabwe, Cousin said the WFP has a shortfall of $60 million to feed 1.8 million of the 2.2 million people who are in urgent need of assistance this peak hunger season which has been extended to June.

She said the WFP’s appeal for Zimbabwe is facing stiff competition from conflicts in Syria, the CAR and South Sudan, adding as a result, the agency may not be able to assist everyone in need in the country.

“We know donors have to make tough decisions with so many simultaneous humanitarian emergencies in the world but we also ask that the less visible crises, like that in Zimbabwe, not be forgotten,” stated Cousin.

Harare, she said, has agreed to allow the WFP to distribute food assistance being bought from other countries by the government to feed the hungry.

Cousin warned that high levels of malnutrition could hold Zimbabwe back from reaching its full potential.

Food insecurity featured high on the agenda at meetings she held with government officials, donors and other stakeholders.

It is estimated that at this point of the lean season – the pre-harvest period when many families have depleted their own-produced stocks – one in four people in rural areas is having problems meeting food needs, according to the WFP.

“Grain prices are much higher than they were this time last year and some communities have no food stocks left following last season’s bad harvest," said Cousin.

The WFP had planned to assist 1.8 million of the most vulnerable at this time but, due to funding constraints, is only able to meet the needs of 1.2 million people. Most of these are receiving reduced rations and WFP’s relief activities are being scaled back in all but the worst-affected areas.

Cousin told VOA there is “guarded optimism” about next month’s harvest due to recent rains in the country. Excessive rainfall in some areas has, however, resulted in flooding and crop damage.

The executive director urged both Harare and the international community to ensure the most vulnerable continue to be assisted, and to provide means for communities to build resilience.