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UN Predicts Food Shortages for East Africa

The United Nations says a series of poor harvests is aggravating an already serious food situation across much of East Africa.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, or FAO, says recent crops in Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia were all well below average and that prospects for Eritrean crops also are poor.

The agency says 20 million people in the region already receive food aid and that the number may rise in coming months, although it did not give a final estimate.

The FAO blamed the poor harvests on the persistent regional drought that has also reduced livestock herds and forced people to migrate in search of water supplies.

Somalia appears to be facing an especially dire situation. The FAO says 3.6 million Somalis -- about half the population -- are in need of emergency assistance.

Daniel Gustafson is Director of the Washington office of the FAO. He talked to VOA about the dire situation in eastern Africa and explained the problem is two-fold, “One is a long period of successive bad rains for the last couple of years. The impact is really coming from drought, but the worry is that it will be followed as often does, when we have an El Nino year, followed by really heavy rains in a short period of time towards the end of the year and early into the next ones."

"That exacerbates," he says, "all of the problems with flooding, mudslides and difficulty in distributing food, and destruction of infrastructure, on top of the fact that we are still recovering from the high price crisis of a couple of years ago. So prices for food staples have not come down to levels before that crisis.So it really is a very severe situation.”

Gustafson said some of the main regions affected will be the northern pastoral regions of Somalia, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan.