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Half a Million People in Tanzania Hit by Drought

The World Food Program is urgently appealing for $16.6 million to feed more than one-half million people in Tanzania who are facing severe hunger because of drought. The WFP says Tanzania's poverty makes it particularly vulnerable to shocks such as drought.

Tanzania had a poor rainy season last year, causing food and cash crop production to plummet by 50 - 70 percent. This year, the much hoped for rains once again failed to come.

As a result, World Food Program spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume says cereal prices have soared. They are around 85 percent higher than average.

"There is a huge number of livestock that is either dead or are severely emaciated. So, many families right now eat only one meal a day. And, this drought has hit more than 85 percent of the country," she explained. "Tanzania is a poor country where the malnutrition rates are already quite high. Weight for age, malnutrition rates among children under five in Tanzania is 22 percent. So, this is already very bad."

Berthiaume says WFP's emergency operation will reach more than half a million people (565,000) in agricultural areas, where subsistence farmers and small pastoralists have been hit by repeated cycles of poor harvests and pasture.

She says children under five will account for at least 10 percent of the beneficiaries. She says the operation will also pay special attention to pregnant and nursing mothers.

WFP already is running a school feeding program for 300,000 people and is providing assistance to thousands of families affected by HIV/AIDS.