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WFP Warns of Developing Famine in Southern Africa

The United Nations World Food Program says millions of people in Southern Africa are threatened with starvation. The WFP is appealing for international assistance to avert a famine.

The World Food Program warned a famine is developing in Southern Africa, which could be as severe as the one that hit the region a decade ago.

The Agency says six countries: Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho, and Swaziland are at particular risk.

WFP Spokeswoman, Christiane Berthiaume said the International community averted a humanitarian catastrophe a decade ago by committing huge sums of money and food aid to the region.

"They saved in 1992, the lives of 20 million people. And, this is what we are now asking donor countries to do - let us please monopolize our efforts right now to avoid a crisis that could be as big as the one in 1991-1992 where the El Nino phenomenon made a lot of damages. And, El Nino is again at the door. It is a very preoccupying situation," she said.

Ms. Berthiaume has said WFP is dipping into its emergency funds to help more than 2.5 million people in the region.

The Prime Minister of Lesotho has declared his country in a state of famine. And, Malawi's President says 70 percent of his country' population has little food.

Ms. Berthiaume said the region has been touched by several years of consecutive drought. That, plus a poor economy, she said, has brought about this disastrous situation.

"On top of that, what makes that situation even worse is that those countries are the ones that have the highest rate of HIV/AIDS. The population is already weakened by the disease and if they do not get the food they need, these people will die sooner than they should. They will leave orphans, and the father will die so nobody will be able to work the land," Ms. Berthiaume said.

Experts from the World Food Program are conducting assessment missions in the six most seriously affected countries. They aim to get a more detailed, comprehensive picture about the extent of malnutrition and how much food will be needed to head off a famine in the coming months.

On the basis of this information, Ms. Berthiaume said WFP will launch an international appeal in the coming weeks.