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Famine in Southern Africa Worse Than Predicted - 2002-07-24

The United Nations World Food Program says the famine in southern Africa is even worse than predicted. WFP officials are warning that 13 million people in six countries: Malawi, Zambia, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Mozambique are in danger of starvation if they do not get food aid.

World Food Program officials say they need one million tons of food to alleviate hunger in southern Africa, but they are not confident they will get it. In an appeal to the international community at the beginning of July, WFP officials asked for more than $0.5 billion to buy food. So far they have received only 20 percent of that. WFP's director for the southern Africa region, Judith Lewis, says the situation is getting desperate. "The window of opportunity to avert what could be a major humanitarian crisis is closing," she said. "We need more assistance now. We need food on the high seas now, or we need cash to buy commodities that are still available in southern Africa, so we can avert this major, major crisis."

Currently, the WFP is assisting six million of the most vulnerable people in the six most severely affected countries. About half of these people are in Zimbabwe. The agency says it is sure the number of people needing its help will rise.

The World Health Organization notes southern Africa, in addition to having the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the world, also has the world's highest chronic malnutrition rates. It predicts about 300,000 people could die over the next six months from diseases related to malnutrition.

Ms. Lewis says the dying has already begun. "We are seeing people moving from their villages," she said. "If they know there is going to be a food distribution, they immediately go there. The problem is we do not even have enough food to feed the people who are on the rolls, let alone add food for other people in the areas. Is there a potential to become chaotic? Yes. "

WFP'S Judith Lewis says at this time of year the agency is usually planning how to get food supplies into the region before the rainy season hits in October. But she says since the WFP is already having difficulty meeting its present targets, it can't even begin to plan for future food deliveries.