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Red Cross Distributes Food to Hundreds of Thousands in Malawi

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has begun distributing food to hundreds of thousands of famine-stricken people in Malawi. It says it has begun this operation because of the critical needs, despite a weak response to its emergency appeal for 1.5 million people in seven southern-African countries. The Red Cross has only received 20 percent of a $30 million appeal launched in October for Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The United Nations estimates 12 million people face food shortages in seven southern African countries. Among them, Malawi is the most severely affected with 4.8 million hungry people. Aid agencies report half of these people are malnourished children under age five.

Faced with this critical situation, Red Cross Regional Director for Southern Africa, Terry Carney, says the agency could not wait for the money to come in to start distributing food to the most vulnerable people.

"There have been reports of over 30 people who died of starvation which is a huge number in a region where without the impact of drought and HIV would never have happened," she said. "There also are now current floods which are going to make the situation of the distribution of seeds and planting of seeds worse. But, there are regions in the north that have been very, very seriously affected since 2001. And, the people and the population have never really recovered from the drought and food insecurity operation then."

Carney says more than 220,000 people in five Malawi districts would benefit from monthly food packs until June, when the harvest is due. She says the Red Cross also runs other programs for nearly 600,000 people throughout Malawi, including providing seeds, fertilizer, and cassava cuttings.

"There have always been programs for food for work," she said. "We are also looking immediately now for the agriculture packs, starter packs, because the season is coming where they have to start planting in order to get their harvest which should be due in June. And, that is why the rains right now and the flooding right now are a bit of a problem and will impact obviously on this longer term food security project."

Carney says the Red Cross hopes it will be able to begin similar food distribution programs in Zambia and Zimbabwe, the most seriously affected countries after Malawi. She warns many people in Southern Africa will go hungry if urgent action is not taken.