The United Nations says southern Africa's food crisis could turn into a major disaster unless Western nations step up emergency aid. The U.N. World Food Program says countries across southern Africa will face increasing food shortages in coming months.

The World Food Program says more than 2.5 million people are facing malnutrition. The agency issued an urgent appeal for more aid from Western donors to ward off a break in food supplies.

The World Food Program says it needs $69 million in order to meet the region's needs.

WFP officials say most of southern Africa has been hit by food shortages, with Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and Lesotho the most severely affected. The agency blames much of the crisis on floods and drought during the past two years that have led to poor harvests of the region's staple food, corn.

The situation in Zimbabwe is aggravated by widespread seizures of white-owned commercial farms for redistribution to landless blacks.

Economists in Zimbabwe tell VOA that most of the newly resettled farmers do not have irrigation equipment or agricultural training to be able to cope with a major drought.

They say many crops have failed because of severely low rainfall in southern parts of the country during the past two years.

The entire Zimbabwean economy also has been affected by two years of political instability. In many parts of the country, people wait in long lines for basic products like cornmeal, sugar and cooking oil.

Zimbabwe usually exports corn to the rest of the southern Africa region. But production has fallen off so much that it is now importing grain. The World Food Program says the number of Zimbabweans dependant on outside food aid is set to rise.

Zambia says more than 30 people have died of starvation in the past few weeks.

The World Food Program says it is feeding 1.3 million people hit by drought and floods in Zambia in the past year. The agency says it also is struggling to feed another 117,000 Congolese and Angolan refugees in Zambia.

The government of Malawi says more than 300 people have starved to death there since the beginning of the year.

A London-based aid agency, Save the Children, conducted a survey late last year in two parts of Malawi. The survey found 10-12 percent of children in those areas were severely malnourished. The agency says the situation is almost certainly worse by now.