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Southern Africa Faces Famine, Warns UN - 2004-02-29

United Nations agencies are warning that southern Africa is again facing famine because of drought and a lack of money from international donors. At risk, say the aid agencies, are 6.5 million people in Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

U.N. aid agencies say they have received only half of what they need to support critical food, health, water, sanitation, and education needs in the six southern African countries. They say millions of people remain vulnerable to the whims of nature and to the lack of interest from international donors.

Rashid Khalikov, deputy director of the Geneva office that coordinates U.N. humanitarian assistance, says that there was some optimism that the situation would improve when the United Nations launched its multi-million-dollar appeal on behalf of these countries last year.

"However, this optimism is fading fast for two main reasons," said Mr. Khalikov. "One is erratic rainfall that has negatively impacted on food production resulting in a significant deterioration of the food security situation. And second is lack of funding for critical assistance activities, particularly in the social service sectors which continues to expose millions of people, in particular children."

U.N. aid agencies say they need $318 million to provide critical services for 6.5 million people until the end of the year. They warn they will be forced to scale back crucial projects across the region if they do not get the money.

Dermot Carty, senior program officer for the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) says children - in particular, the three million AIDS orphans - will be the main victims. He says urgent and massive action is needed immediately. If this is not forthcoming, he warns, there will be a generation of lost children, a legacy which the region cannot afford.

"Youth and early primary school age children, highly susceptible to infection, and they are the futures of these countries," he explained. "Young children not infected by HIV and AIDS, primarily age five to 13, are the hope for the viability of countries devastated by HIV and AIDS. At present, this has largely been an invisible group both in terms of their needs and their vulnerability."

Mr. Carty says orphaned children face enormous hardships. He says many are cared for by over-stretched relatives. Many, increasingly, are heading their own households. He says the children frequently lack access to food and health care and often are forced to drop out of school.