Outlook Is Poor in 1994 For Hungriest Nations

Sub-Saharan Africa tops new UN list, but Somalian situation has improved. FOREIGN AID

THE good news is that the food situation in Somalia has improved considerably, a year after mass starvation stalked that battered nation.

The bad news is that at least 20 other countries around the world are facing serious food shortages, with hunger and malnourishment endangering millions of people, according to a new report from a United Nations agency.

Failed crops are only part of the problem. Wars and general economic chaos often make things worse by disrupting food shipments.

``There is plenty of food to feed all of the world's 5.4 billion people, but the problem comes in distributing it efficiently to the starving,'' said Edouard Saouma, director-general of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

The hardest-hit nations include Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Eritrea. All had poor harvests in 1993 and now have little in the way of food reserves. All need ``massive'' food-aid increases, according to the UN FAO food-outlook report.

In Eritrea, for instance, an FAO assessment team found that drought and infestations of such pests as army worms and stem borers had dire effects. Eritrean cereal and legume crop production is now estimated at only one-third of the record 1992 levels.

Some 43 percent of the Eritrean population will need food aid in the coming year, judged FAO, with the total requirement weighing in at 255,000 tons.

Nations where civil strife threatens to exacerbate serious food problems include Angola and Burundi. Though fighting has abated somewhat in Liberia, it too has food-aid needs, as does Sierra Leone.

Other needy African nations include Mozambique and Niger, according to the FAO.

SUB-SAHARAN Africa has long been the world's primary food-shortage region - it accounted for half of aid shipments to developing nations in fiscal year 1993. But political instability and economic problems in Europe have brought hunger to a continent where it has been little seen since the end of World War II.

War zones of Bosnia-Herzegovina are a prime example, with airdrops the only means of food transport in many areas.

But conflict is also causing problems in at least three ex-Soviet republics: Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. A total of 1 million people in these three nations will require emergency food aid to prevent starvation, according to the UN.

Other nations on the FAO's top 20 food-problem list include Afghanistan, Rwanda, Somalia, and Tajikistan.

Overall, the world food supply will be tighter than it was a year ago, the UN reports. Production of cereals, the globe's basic foodstuff, dropped 4 percent last year to an estimated 1.88 billion tons.

This shortfall could complicate relief efforts by driving up prices and exacerbating regional shortfalls.

Cereal stockpiles will be drawn down more than anticipated, leaving little room for error should key producers be troubled by poor weather in 1994, as they were in 1993.

To prevent this safety net from unraveling further, ``a minimum increase of about 65 million tons, or 3 percent, in global cereal production'' will be needed, FAO experts say.

Currently, there are about 11.4 million tons of cereal in the world that appear to be available for emergency food aid in fiscal 1994.

That contrasts with aid shipments of 15.1 million tons actually made in fiscal 1993. Developed countries could still chip in with additional stocks to make up any needed aid shortfall.

According to the UN, about 790 million residents of the developing world suffer from chronic undernourishment. Another 2 billion have what FAO calls ``hidden hunger'' - unbalanced diets with deficiencies in specific nutrients that can lead to mental and physical problems.

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