The United Nations has launched an appeal for emergency assistance for six countries in southern Africa that are facing critical food shortages.
The U.N. World Food Program is asking for over $500 million in emergency food aid for southern Africa, where an estimated 13 million people could die of starvation by the end of this year. The countries in need are Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi, Lesotho and Swaziland.
U.N. officials say the food shortages are the result of a combination of factors, including poor rainfall, floods, economic decline in the region and mismanagement by governments.
James Morris, the executive director of the World Food Program, notes the food situation has been aggravated by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which has killed off many agricultural workers in those countries.
The World Food Program, with this appeal, is committed to providing two-thirds of the region's cereal food aid, with the rest expected to come from the private sector. It is appealing to the traditional donors, those countries that now have surpluses, to respond generously.
The U.N. food agency has a fuller agenda of emergency situations around the world than it has ever had. Mr. Morris said the challenges are enormous, almost overwhelming for one agency to handle. "From my point of view," he said, "you put it in the context of the World Food Program that is charged with feeding 6.5 million people right now in North Korea, at the high point 10 million people in Afghanistan. The numbers of people we are feeding in the Palestinian territories is dramatically increasing, the same increase in Angola, the same needs in West Africa. We have never had so much on our plate."
The current crisis in southern Africa is considered its worst in a decade. The World Food Program says a catastrophe still can be averted if governments respond rapidly, within a matter of a few weeks.