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UNICEF: Nearly 62,000 Children in Lesotho At Risk of Starving - 2002-07-17

The United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, said more than 440,000 people in the southern African country of Lesotho are at risk of starving, including about 62,000 children under age five. UNICEF has said Lesotho's problem is compounded by poverty and a high level of HIV/AIDS.

UNICEF says more than one-fifth of Lesotho's two million people are at risk of starvation, one-half of them children under the age of 15.

The UNICEF representative in Lesotho, Kimberly Gamble Payne, said many children are malnourished and several are dying every month from causes related to malnutrition. She said feeding centers for very young children are not functioning as well as before because of competing problems.

"We have had mothers bring their severely malnourished children to the centers where they normally are admitted for two or three days to feed the little ones. The mothers are telling us that they cannot stay in the hospital for two or three days because they have a sick husband at home, they have a sick sister at home, they have a sick mother at home. They have other sick children at home. They take their children back home where they will surely die," Ms. Gamble Payne said.

She said Lesotho suffers from recurrent severe food shortages. But, she said the present crisis is probably one of the most widespread.

The UNICEF official also said the country is having great difficulty in coping with the famine, because so many people are weakened by HIV/AIDS. About 23 percent of Lesotho's population is infected with the AIDS virus.

"Many others are affected because if those people are not able to work and they normally are the breadwinners of the family, then the family is both without food and the wage income that would come from heads of household that are sick at the moment. Also, many of these people are nurses and are teachers. We are losing our professionals at an alarming rate," Ms. Gamble Payne said.

UNICEF said it needs six million dollars over the next year to provide food for the sickest children, support health programs, and counsel AIDS orphans. The World Food Program has a separate appeal to assist hundreds of thousands of hungry people in southern Africa.