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UN Says Famine in Southern Africa Averted


Officials from the U.S. Agency for International Development and the World Food Program say enough food has been delivered to avert famine in southern Africa.

Michael Hess of the USAID says the food situation in southern Africa is always precarious. "As you all know this chronic situation in southern Africa, lot's of complications that have to do with chronic poverty and AIDS that's endemic in this part of the world that leads to serious problems almost every year," he said.

Mr. Hess says USAID and WFP were able to get food aid to six southern African nations in a timely manner. With the United States contribution of $280 million worth of aid, a total of 370,000 metric tons of food has been delivered to the region, bringing hope for the estimated 12.5 million people at risk of shortages.

The six southern African nations are Malawi, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Zambia, Mozambique, and Swaziland.

The agencies say the food crisis is the result of a combination of prolonged drought, chronic poverty, bad governance and the ongoing devastation of HIV and AIDS.

"That means fewer people who can be farmers. ...many of them are just weak, too weak. nowadays to do traditional farming. And therefore it is not a crisis that is going to disappear in the coming few years unfortunately, said Jean-Jacques Graisse, the deputy executive director for the World Food Program.

Among the six nations, Malawi and Zimbabwe are the worst off, with an estimated 10 million people in need in food aid.

Despite strained relations between the government of Zimbabwe, which earlier this year refused to accept international food aid, and the World Food Program, Mr. Graisse says he's confident a recent memorandum of understanding will make it possible to get the aid to those who need it.

"We have good working relations with the government in the sense that they have agreed with us on how we can do food distributions through, in our case, mostly through international NGO's, so that we know where the food goes, and there is clear agreement that they won't interfere with our distributions," he said.

But Mr. Hess acknowledges that while famine was averted this year, the food situation in the southern African region is always precarious and needs to monitored.

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