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Thursday, 6 June, 2002, 10:56 GMT 11:56 UK
'Millions face famine' in Africa
Food being distributed
Some food has arived in Malawi - more is needed
The World Food Programme (WFP) has warned that 12.8 million people are on the brink of starvation in southern Africa and urgently need food aid.

It made the warning in Johannesburg, where international aid agencies, donor governments and humanitarian organisations are meeting to discuss ways of alleviating the situation.

We see this as a crisis of enormous dimensions

Jean-Jacques Graisse, WFP
Crops have failed across the region due to drought, floods and political breakdown.

The impact of food shortages over the next 12 months, particularly on people with HIV/Aids, will also be discussed by the delegates, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation said.

The BBC's Rageh Omaar in Johannesburg says that aid officials will have to work out how to overcome the serious logistical challenges of delivering huge amounts of food quickly to millions of hungry people in places with little or no infrastructure.

Hundreds have already died in Malawi but Zambia, Zimbabwe, Angola, Mozambique, Swaziland and Lesotho are also badly hit.

Political factors

"We see this as a crisis of enormous dimensions. The situation worsens with each day and clearly needs urgent attention," Jean-Jacques Graisse, WFP deputy executive director, told the gathering.

Famine crisis:

The region needs 1.2 million tonnes in emergency aid and about 4 million tonnes to make it through the year, according to the WFP and the UN's food agency.

President Robert Mugabe's policy of seizing productive white-owned farms has added to the problems - as acknowledged by his finance minister on Wednesday.

Simba Makoni said that the policy of splitting up large white-owned farms into small units had affected production levels in a country which used to be southern Africa's bread basket.

"It compounds, it exacerbates, but it is not the primary cause of, the problem," he said.

Small harvests

Over two days, around 100 delegates will examine a recent UN food and crop assessment and will try to co-ordinate the response that will be needed to avert what many say could be a grave crisis by the end of the year.

The harvesting period has just finished in the region, and people in some of the worst-affected countries only have a small amount of food.

Victim of famine
People with HIV/Aids are especially vulnerable to hunger

But reserves are expected run out within the next few months, and people will then depend entirely on outside assistance.

"We'll talk about a famine the day we see thousands and thousands of people dying," said Mr Graisse.

"At this stage, we have a great number of people facing malnourishment and starvation in some areas, and if we do nothing, we will face a famine."

The European Union, the United States and other countries have promised to help, but the biggest obstacle will be to deliver that aid.

The BBC's Richard Miron
"Millions facing famine unless something is done"
Asst UN emergency relief co-ordinator Ross Mountain
"If we get our act together we could avert the disaster"

Key stories

Horn of Africa

Southern Africa

West Africa

Ways to help



See also:

30 May 02 | Africa
19 Feb 02 | Africa
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