U.K. Sounds Warning on Zambian Refusal to Declare Food Emergency

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(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. questioned Zambia’s refusal to declare a food emergency amid the worst drought in nearly four decades in large parts of the country, warning the situation will lead to deaths.

This year’s corn crop, the national staple, fell to a decade low, with corn-meal prices 41% higher in July than a year earlier and at a record. The government has said there are enough food reserves and it won’t declare a national disaster because that would be “begging” and Zambia is “a proud nation.”

“It’s estimated that 2.5 million Zambians will soon be in crisis,” U.K. High Commissioner Fergus Cochrane-Dyet said in an emailed statement Tuesday. “People will undoubtedly die from malnutrition compounded by disease.”

Neighboring Zimbabwe, Malawi, Namibia and Angola have either declared a state of disaster or emergency because of drought or floods this year, and Cochrane-Dyet questioned why Zambia hadn’t.

“Maybe Zambians and outsiders who deny the need for an emergency should examine their consciences,” he said. “Declaring an emergency would unlock international humanitarian assistance that donors can’t otherwise provide.”

The Zambian government has blamed increasing prices for corn meal on panic buying sparked by speculation over shortages and insists it has the food-supply situation under control.

“You just don’t declare disasters willy-nilly just because everybody else is doing it,” government spokeswoman Dora Siliya said by phone. “At the moment we believe we have enough food and we just need to redistribute it in the country. The president has been very clear that no Zambian is going to die of hunger.”

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