A number of countries on the African continent are facing a serious drought that could lead to famine. In parts of East Africa, development experts say up to half the children under five years old are undernourished.
In East Africa, a lack of rain over the past several years has ruined crops in parts of Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda, Djibouti, Tanzania and Malawi. UNICEF, The United Nations Children's Fund, says Somalia is experiencing its worst dry spell in a decade.
In the town of Wajid in Somalia, thousands of people have come to a camp where there is still water. The U.N. warns that in the Horn of Africa millions of people need urgent food assistance. Aid workers and hospital officials say dozens of people have already died across the region.
Peter Smerdon is with the U.N.'s World Food Program in Kenya. "Food and money is needed now if we're going to tackle this problem and people will survive. If we do not receive donations it's going to be very miserable and very difficult for a lot of people in Kenya, and elsewhere, and there will be a loss of life."
The U.S. government's Famine Early Warning System Network indicates other African nations are also facing food shortages, including Chad and Niger in West Africa, which is still recovering from drought last year. In southern Africa, millions of people, including those in Zimbabwe, are depending on food aid.
" hspace=2 src="/english/images/baby_tv_20feb06_150.jpg" width=150 align=left vspace=2 border=0>Ina Schonberg is with Save the Children, a private U.S. aid organization. Her group is helping malnourished children by giving them a special nutritional bar. "It tastes good, the children like to eat it, and after only after 30 days they are almost fully recuperated. We have a 95 percent success rate in bringing these children back to health."
She says providing farmers with simple technology can have a long-term impact during periods of drought. When some farmers in Malawi, for example, were given non-electric water pumps so they could irrigate their crops, it helped prevent starvation.
"And it allowed them to grow off-season vegetables, and recoup their losses from the maize crop that had dried in their fields only the month before. So it's made a huge difference for those farmers and for those communities," said Ms. Schonberg.
Joachim von Braun heads the International Food Policy Research Institute, a private group in Washington that works to alleviate hunger around the world. He says more genetically enhanced crops must be developed that can withstand dry conditions.
"Make agriculture less vulnerable to drought through plant breeding, good irrigation, solid soil management,” he says, “that is the long-term guarantee against the reoccurrence of the famines."
He says other factors are also contributing to hunger in Africa, including economic policies that hurt farmers, a lack of infrastructure, and high food prices. Ms. Schonberg says adding to the problem is the millions of people who have contracted the HIV virus that causes the deadly disease aids.
"When HIV/AIDS kills a significant portion of the productive population, particularly in a rural area, only a half or third of the strong adults are able to work in the fields. Those families, then, have less food that year."
Mr. Von Braun says to help avert hunger, African leaders must institute policies that help farmers.
"What has not happened sufficiently over the past decade is paying due attention to the root causes of hunger and poverty in rural areas,” he says. “There is constant underinvestment into the resource base where most of the poor and hungry are and those are small farmers in rural Africa."
Aid officials say the lack of rain, and the inability of governments to plan for droughts, are the immediate causes of the current crisis. International aids groups are hoping to avoid a situation Africa has seen all too often, where millions of people die from starvation.