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Thursday, 25 April, 2002, 12:08 GMT 13:08 UK
Donors urged to feed Southern Africa
Malawi map
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has launched an appeal for millions of people across southern Africa who it says are in desperate need of food aid.

If in three or four months nothing happens, we will have an all-out disaster on our hands

Judith Lewis, WFP
The organisation says the acute shortages of food are the result of a combination of floods followed by drought, and that assistance is urgently required within the next three months if a disaster is to be averted.

The situation is particularly acute in Malawi, where hundreds have already died and a state of emergency has been declared.

The WFP, which is already feeding 300,000 people in Malawi, says the situation is likely to get much worse towards the end of the year.

Development aid cut

It says between three and four million Malawians could ultimately be at risk, and it hopes the appeal will provoke a more generous reaction.

Starving child
Up to four million people face the risk of starvation
"We still have time to avert a major crisis," says the WFP's Judith Lewis. "If in three or four months nothing happens, we will have an all-out disaster on our hands."

Ms Lewis said the response to appeals for money and food for the existing feeding programmes had been slow.

Concerns about corruption have led to a fall in aid from western donors to the country in recent years.

Debt burden

But President Bakili Muluzi of Malawi denies the allegations.

President Bakili Muluzi
Muluzi says his government is not corrupt
In a BBC interview, he acknowledged that the government had in the past sold maize.

But he said it had been forced to do so in order to repay commercial loans taken out to buy surplus maze in previous years.

President Muluzi said the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank "insisted that, since Malawi had a surplus and the (government's) National Food Reserve Agency had this huge loan, they had to sell the maize to repay the commercial banks. It is not a matter of corruption."

Aid workers say the food shortages are as much to do with bad management as with lack of rain.

Regional shortages

But the WFP is not only worried about Malawi. It says the situation is extremely serious in neighbouring countries as well.

In Zambia, more than one million people will need emergency food this year.

Another million face food shortages in Zimbabwe - a country that has traditionally been able to feed itself but is now wracked by both drought and political turmoil.

The WFP says Zimbabwe may have to import between 1.5 million and 2 million tonnes of maize in 2002.

There are also severe shortages in Mozambique, Lesotho, and Swaziland.

The BBC's Barnaby Philips in Lilongwe
"There are signs of a relief operation springing into life"
President of Malawi Bakili Muluzi
"It is not about corruption at all"
See also:

06 Mar 02 | Africa
Spectre of starvation in Malawi
27 Feb 02 | Africa
Malawi declares famine emergency
19 Nov 01 | Africa
Malawi donors suspend aid
07 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Malawi
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