By Jeff Kapembwa
Lusaka - Zambia has been ranked the fifth hungriest nation in the world with an average 43% of the population facing severe hunger, chiefly in rural parts of the country, many at risk of being deprived the relief food as rains sets in, a research by an agriculture think-tank has revealed.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation argues that while some donors had pressured Zambia to declare a disaster and lure goodwill, it was folly for the country to concede yet it realised its capacity to contain the situation and should have been left to decide without duress.
“There was no need really to declare the country hungry because there was no disaster here and the people affected were just a fraction and many are now being attended to through Drought Management Unit (DMU),” George Okeroh, FAO country representative in Zambia told The Southern Times in an interview last week.
“By not declaring hunger a disaster, Zambia has shown sufficient capacity to control hunger in some parts of the country with the help from cooperating partners. There is need for government to in future keep cooperating partners informed on what is happening to avoid anxiety among people and being pushed into hasty decisions,” Okech stated.
Zambia, like Malawi, Zimbabwe, among other Southern African neighbours, suffered food deficit spurred by drought that afflicted crop production among the over 270,000 population. Zimbabwe was among some of the countries that sought donor aid to avert hunger.
Zambian think-tank, Indaba Agricultural and Policy Research Institute (IAPRI), claimed, Zambia was now the fifth hungriest country in the world as hunger levels chiefly in rural parts of the country are estimated at 43 percent.
It fears cases of malnutrition, estimated around 42 percent chiefly in Luapula, near DR Congo and Western province, near Angola, among others, were likely to escalate as rainfall sets in, forcing logistical challenges for feeding outreach programmes to afflicted families.
Rhonda Mukuka, IAPRI senior research fellow, argued that a staggering 43 percent of Zambians had experienced severe hunger this year and could worsen with most rural areas not reachable with the onset of rains.
“We did a survey as IAPRI and we looked at the different levels of hunger; those that experienced little to no hunger and those severely hit and at national levels, the majority of the population experienced severe hunger, with about 43 percent experienced severe hunger.
“You will see Western Province having the biggest proportion of households that experiencing severe hunger and most of this is from places like Shang’ombo if you look at the wider provincial distributions.
“So, more than 60 per cent of the population in Western Province is actually raising the national average. Also Luapula and North Western Province, those are some of the provinces.
“Incidentally, the Global Hunger Index shows that as a country, 38 percent are experiencing severe hunger and looking at this pattern, it’s not so far different from our findings. We are actually the fifth hungriest country in the world,” she argued in her report.
Zambia’s food security situation had worsened, according to the study with the food situation pointing to increased cases of undernourishment with malnutrition levels hitting their highest ebb-46%.
“Zambia has the highest levels of undernourishment, suffice to say around 46%. This implies that almost half of the population are said to be undernourished,” Dr Mukuka added, further claiming, “I think there is only one country that is higher than us (which could not be stated)”.
DMU fears the hunger besetting rural areas, chiefly Western, Southern and Luapula provinces, could worsen during the rainy season, arguing some areas might be difficult to access, according to the unit’s assistant director, Lenganji Sikaoma.