Food shortages are threatening countries from the Horn of Africa southward. Two-thirds of the continent is affected by drought, poor harvests or war.
Repeated appeals have gone out for basic needs. Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland and Lesotho are at risk, and Ethiopia and Eritrea, with a combined population of 16 million, are facing a serious shortage of food.
“The situation is very bad,” said Wagdi Otham, an Eritrea-based spokesman for the World Food Program. “We have no food reserves to feed millions of people who will go hungry over the next few months.”
Even Zimbabwe, for the first time in its modern history, is threatened by food shortages, thanks to drought and forced land redistribution.
Demands for food across the continent has diverted the attention of donors from the Horn of Africa, “so Ethiopia and Eritrea receive less,” Otham said.
Sister Elisa Tonello, a Salesian religious in Zway, 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of Addis Ababa, described life in a city which has grown from a town of a few thousand to over 60,000 inhabitants in the last few years.
“Located on the shore of a lake, Zway is in a semi-arid area, in permanent risk of hunger,” she said. “Statistics over the past three years reflect this. The last drought, in 1999, which has had repercussions to this day, brought many children reduced to skin and bones to the mission.”
“This circumstance has given no sign of ceasing or diminishing,” the missionary added. “Once again, the immediate future is worrisome. The harvests are insufficient to take care of the population.”
Poverty and drought also endanger 200,000 animals — sheep, goats, oxen, donkeys, horses — which are “the support of rural life. If oxen are not in good condition, it will not be possible to plow enough land in time, the next rainy season,” Sister Elisa lamented. “The cycle of hunger is starting again for the peoples we serve.”
Moreover, villages are left without men, who go off to search of work, water and grass for the animals. Women, the elderly, and children remain, surrounded only by earth and sand.
“It is the first time that I am directly involved in a predictable catastrophe of these dimensions,” Sister Elisa said. “It terrifies me. I am appalled by the silence of the media and the lack of attention of the governments of the world, which have forgotten the Southern Hemisphere.”
She added: “Our hope is to be able to ensure one meal a day for our 3,500 children. But there will be more.”