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Red Cross Pushes For $60 Million to Beat Impending African Famine - 2002-07-22

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is seeking more than $60 million to ward off famine in southern Africa. The agencies hope to feed 750,000 of the most vulnerable people in five nations.

The Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies say at least 13 million people in southern Africa are threatened by starvation in the coming months. Aid agencies including the U.N. World Food Program have been asking for emergency aid for southern Africa since early this year. The Red Cross launched its first appeal in May.

But the agencies say donor response has not been enough to meet the needs of people in the region, so they are stepping up their campaign. Renny Nancholas is the Red Cross and Red Crescent southern Africa food security coordinator. He says the international community often does not respond to impending famines until there are pictures of starving children on their television screens. "Now invariably, that is always too late," she said. "We are in the business of saving lives, not waiting for them to die and then dealing with it. So that is why we have made this decision to go for this big appeal now."

The agencies want to get food into the region to distribute as quickly as possible, before the year's meager harvest runs out and people start dying. So the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are asking for nearly $62 million to help feed 750,000 people in Lesotho, Malawi, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

The agencies say they are targeting the most vulnerable people in those five countries, especially families affected by HIV and AIDS. Southern Africa has one of the highest HIV infection rates in the world - more than 30 percent in some countries. Mcbain Kanongodza, head the Malawi Red Cross Society, said, "The combination of hunger and AIDS is causing a terrible tragedy which the world needs to respond to urgently."

The agencies say one of the hardest parts of the operation will be getting the food into remote areas, on bad or nonexistent roads. To help, Norway has donated 200 all-terrain trucks, plus several fuel tankers and other heavy vehicles.

But even that will not be enough in some areas. In Zambia, the Red Cross says the army will help distribute food by helicopter, if needed. The head of the Lesotho Red Cross says her agency will be using ponies to reach some of the most remote areas of the mountainous country.