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UN Agencies Say Mozambique Faces Severe Drought

U.N. agencies say that Mozambique is undergoing a severe drought. They say hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people will need increased humanitarian assistance over the coming months to help them survive until next year's harvest in April. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

Mozambique has been lurching from one natural disaster to another. The current drought follows heavy flooding and a devastating cyclone earlier this year. Those disasters affected hundreds of thousands of people. Homes, crops and livelihoods were destroyed.

Low rainfall levels during the 2006-2007 growing season have led to severe drought conditions. The drought is centered in the southern part of the country.

World Food Program Director in Mozambique, Ken Davies, says many people will be affected by the drought, which will last until the next main harvest in April.

"The lean season, when people really get hungry if they did not have a good harvest, is October to March and that is the period we are looking at for beginning a serious drought response and scaling it up," Davies said. " If you add together those from the cyclone, those from the floods, and those who just have had a pitiful harvest…we are talking about … something over half a million. So, that is a big number for Mozambique."

Mozambique is one of the poorest countries in the world. The United Nations reports 54 percent of its population of 20 million lives below the poverty line. In addition, nearly nine percent is living with HIV/AIDS.

The U.N. children's fund says the HIV/AIDS epidemic is so large it threatens to reverse all the progress that has been made in Mozambique. It says 58 percent of those infected are women. It says 380,000 children are orphaned by AIDS and the number is likely to double in the next three years.

The UNICEF representative in Mozambique, Leila Pakkala, says acute malnutrition among children is not very high because the government runs a good surveillance program.

But she says 41 percent of all children in Mozambique suffer from chronic malnutrition, which results in stunting or physical and mental disabilities. She says these children will suffer during the drought.

"Normally in situations where you have a lean season, children who are chronically malnourished are more susceptible to various forms of illness as well as susceptible to acute malnutrition," she explained. "So, while we do not have very high numbers of children currently needing support, the issue of surveillance is a big concern."

Pakkala says UNICEF will increase its health and nutrition, its water, sanitation and hygiene programs during this critical period. She says the agency will also try to make sure that children continue to go to school.

WFP's Ken Davies says the agency will have to increase the number of people it feeds to meet the growing needs. He says WFP helps the local economy by purchasing as much food within Mozambique as possible.