A toxic mix of economics, bad weather and conflict is fueling record starvation levels in Africa, as prices of staple foods touch records in half the continent’s 54 countries amid the worst harvests in three decades.
The countries worst affected, including South Sudan, Somalia and northern Nigeria, are plagued by civil war. But even in relatively stable regions, rising inflation and foreign-exchange shortages have exacerbated conditions.
Falling commodity prices across central and southern Africa have sent currencies more than 30% lower against the dollar in the past six months, spiking inflation and undermining purchasing power.
“The corn price doubled again last month,” said Sarah Mweene, a 38-year-old taxi driver from Lusaka, copper-rich Zambia’s capital, where in March eight people died in a stampede of thousands of people who were lined up for emergency food rations. “We can only afford one meal a day for the children.…It’s never happened before.”
In commodity-dependent Zambia, churches converted into food banks are filling beyond capacity as crowds join all-night lines for corn handouts.
On a recent day, thousands of people marched on a sports stadium in Lusaka, where a church was donating free food. Mobs forced the stadium’s steel doors open, snatching cooking oil, corn meal, salt and anything else they could find.
The government is seeking an emergency $1.6 billion International Monetary Fund loan to aid the economy.
Agriculture Minister Dora Siliya said shortages and rising prices are the government’s big challenge, but hopes the situation will stabilize in the coming months, when supplies from the 2017 harvest start to trickle in.
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