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 Tuesday 30 October 2007
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GHANA: Food shortages follow drought, floods

Photo: Catholic Relief Services
A tributary of the White Volta overflowing its banks, submerging farm land in the Builsa District of the Upper East Region of Ghana in mid-September
DAKAR, 25 October 2007 (IRIN) - After an initial push to provide food for people affected by drought and heavy flooding in northern Ghana, donor attention on the country is waning even though food shortages persist meaning the situation could get much worse, the Ghanaian government and aid agencies warn.

“Because of the preceding drought and the end of the planting season, there is an inevitable situation of food insecurity, which is likely to last until the next harvest,” the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) wrote in a 9 October appeal.

“It’s something that is going to be an ongoing problem… The food supply has to be constant until the region is able to regenerate itself,” said Benonita Bismarck, head of operations of the Ghana Red Cross Society.

The three northern regions of Ghana – Upper East, Upper West and Northern Region – are the poorest parts of the West African country and were hard hit by drought earlier this year. When the rains finally came in August and September, they were so strong that homes, crops and livestock were washed away.

The government estimates floods affected 332,600 people.

According to the IFRC, up to 50 percent of staple crops in flood-affected areas have been destroyed or are rotting in the fields. While communities would normally have some ability to cope, the earlier drought means they do not have enough food reserves.

Appeals for funding

According to the UN, preliminary assessments by the Ministry of Food and Agriculture suggest that drought and floods affected 70,500 hectares of farmland, resulting in an estimated loss of 144,000 tonnes of crops, including maize, sorghum, millet, peanuts, yam, cassava and rice.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has launched a three-month emergency operation to provide food to the 75,000 people it considers most vulnerable, but its funding to date is US$3.3 million short – more than half of the funds requested.

The WFP says it plans to assist people – including pregnant women and children under five – until the next harvest, but “most humanitarian agencies have distributed all the food in stock and will need new pledges to continue distribution,” it said in a statement.

A UN flash appeal for US$12,410,000 for relief operations in Ghana had been funded to just 22 percent as of 25 October.

The IFRC also appealed for 2.5 million Swiss francs (US$2.1 million) to help 60,000 people in Ghana over the next six months. That appeal – which targets non-food items, shelter, health education, hygiene promotion and emergency management – has been completely funded.

Ability to cope

In the Upper West Region, flooding has been followed by yet another cycle of drought, according to the regional coordinator of the government’s National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO).

''...Most people are on one meal a day and have been for quite some time because of the drought...''
“For the past three weeks, we have not had any rainfall,” Timothy Dombo told IRIN. He said food has been distributed, but “that will not be enough for the people to live on until the next planting season [in mid-May or early June]. We will need some support.”

Most residents of the northern regions of Ghana are subsistence farmers unable to diversify their income because of poverty. Prices of staples have doubled and not all commodities are available in markets, according to the UN.

“Most [people] are on one meal a day and have been for quite some time because of the drought,” said Matthew Minns, project officer with the non-governmental organisation Concern Universal.

“Some of them are coping by selling off livestock or sending their offspring to the major towns in the south of Ghana to work to make money to send home,” he said. “Others are doing small scale collection: twigs for firewood and berries.”

Nana Akrasi-Sarpong, public relations manager at the Ministry of the Interior, repeated an earlier claim that there is an “imminent famine” in the area.

Malnutrition levels – already the highest in the country – are expected to rise. According to WFP, chronic malnutrition among children ranges from 34 to 48 percent in the Northern Region and acute malnutrition from 8 to 12 percent in the Upper West and Upper East Regions. Twenty percent of pregnant women in the affected regions are malnourished.

“They need dry-season farming. They need to be able to diversify their income sources. They need some way of raising money so they can buy food that they’re not going to be able to farm,” Minns said.

Distribution problems

The problem of food shortages has been exacerbated by complications in the delivery of food aid, many sources said.

Minns told IRIN district assemblies charged with food distribution “don’t have enough money” to distribute to communities quickly and effectively.

Starting 17 October, a delegation from the Ministry of the Interior spent a week in the affected regions to assess reports that food was not getting to the people.

“In some parts of the Northern Region, the [relief items sent by the government] were in the warehouses,” Akrasi-Sarpong said.

He said problems with distributing food from the regional to the community level – due to bad roads, accidents and vehicle breakdowns – are being resolved.


Theme(s): (IRIN) Aid Policy, (IRIN) Children, (IRIN) Early Warning, (IRIN) Environment, (IRIN) Food Security, (IRIN) Governance, (IRIN) Health & Nutrition, (IRIN) Migration, (IRIN) Natural Disasters, (IRIN) Refugees/IDPs


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
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This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States. Republication is subject to terms and conditions as set out in the IRIN copyright page.