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Red Cross Distributes Food in Uzbekistan

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says an emergency food distribution operation is underway in drought-stricken Uzbekistan. The Red Cross is targeting 20,000 of the worst affected people in the region of Karakalpakstan.

The Red Cross says grinding poverty and three years of drought have left thousands of families sick and destitute in a part of Uzbekistan that was once lush and thriving. The relief agency says the drying up of the Aral Sea has resulted in persistent water shortages and these shortages have been aggravated by three years of drought in the Karakalpakstan region in the north of the country.

The Red Cross officer for Central Asia, Susanna Soderstrom, says the Uzbek Red Crescent Society has begun distributing food to farming families that don't have any income because their harvests have failed. "They cannot get any income from selling their harvests and, therefore, are economically challenged in their every day life," she said. "And most of these families have already lost most of their coping mechanisms in terms of having sold perhaps furniture or what little belongings they have. Or even their livestock in order to get some sort of income to pay for their food."

Ms. Soderstrom adds that, for many people, the only water available is polluted and that has led to numerous cases of diarrhea and malnutrition. To treat them, the Red Cross has begun supplying the medical centers with basic anti-diarrheal medicines and water filters. "Our assessment is that the situation definitely is getting worse and in order to prevent a major disaster, we are providing these small communities with this food assistance so that their situation would not become so bad that they will start to die," said Susanna Soderstrom.

The crisis in Karakalpakstan is so severe that the Red Cross is already planning a second distribution of emergency food aid in April.