The World Food Programme (WFP) has warned that vulnerable populations in Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe face a "grim winter".
WFP spokesman Mike Huggins told IRIN that of the US $216 million appeal for its Protracted Relief and Recovery Operations (PRRO), aimed at supporting people affected by drought and floods in previous years, the agency had so far received just $57 million.
Huggins noted that "our current level of funding does not bode well for the expected increase in need across the region". Several countries, already struggling to recover from previous poor harvests, face another deficit this year, due to prolonged dry spells at critical stages in the crop cycle.
"While the joint Food and Agriculture Organisation/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Missions and Vulnerability Assessment Committee exercises [to assess the shortfall and resulting food aid needs] are underway, the 2004/05 agricultural harvest is expected to be comparable to, and in some locations worse than, the drought year of 2002," WFP said in its latest situation report.
Following poor harvests in 2002, combined with the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS, economic crises and tenuous national grain reserves, some 14 million people across Southern Africa were in need of food aid to survive.
Given the outlook for this year, WFP cautioned that its ability to respond to the looming humanitarian crisis in the region could be severely compromised.
"WFP is drastically underfunded and we are facing a dire outlook for many countries in this region. Donors and the international community will have to refocus their attention on the Southern African region if we are to help all the many millions who will need assistance," Huggins noted.
In Angola, where WFP's support for the return and resettlement of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) was "crucial to the peace process", the agency's programmes were also "severely underfunded".
The WFP situation report noted that "there has been a precipitous drop in contributions from donors since January 2004".
"Even with reduced beneficiary numbers, substantial reductions in food-for-work/assets activities, and a much smaller school-feeding programme than had initially been planned, the operation still needs about $24 million, or 36,000 mt of additional food, in order to reach completion at the end of 2005," the agency pointed out.