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Monday, 14 October, 2002, 10:56 GMT 11:56 UK
Drought spreads across Africa
People in Malawi queuing for food
Malawi is one of the worst affected countries

The United Nations food agency has warned that it is being overwhelmed by the scale of the famine in Africa.

A spokeswoman for the World Food Programme (WFP), Christiane Berthiaume, told the BBC it had never had to confront so many crises at the same time.

The UN is already trying to deal with famines in southern Africa and the Horn of Africa, and now there are the first indications of crop failures in the Western Sahel.

Monitors report that poor rains have severely affected crops in large parts of Mauritania, Mali and Senegal.

Around 28 million Africans are dependent on food aid from the international community for their survival.

Unprecedented

Africa is no stranger to natural calamities, but this is on a scale that is challenging the ability of the international community to cope.

From Mauritania in the north, to Lesotho in the south, country after country is facing the grim prospect of famine.

The WFP spokeswoman, Christiane Berthiaume, says she has never experienced anything like it.

'It is really a big problem... and the donor contributions are not following," she told the BBC.

Dead cattle in Afar, Ethiopia
The Ethiopian drought has not hit the headlines

Reports that crops have failed in the Western Sahel come at a particularly bad time.

Most UN operations in the region are co-ordinated through the Ivory Coast, and the fighting there exacerbates an already difficult situation.

Aid agencies, already straining to deal with the famine in southern Africa, are now close to being overwhelmed by these multiple crises.

Famine affects between 10 and 14 million people in Ethiopia, and 1.5 million in Eritrea. No figures are yet available for the Sahel.

Growing numbers

The WFP recently revised upwards the number of people it believes to be at risk in Southern Africa from 12.8 million to 14.4 million, with the greatest hardship likely to occur in March next year, just before the next harvest.

The WFP said last month donors had been very generous, and it should be possible to generate the necessary resources by then.

But it said it would not be possible to get two months' supply of relief food into position before the rains started in October, and huge issues of transport and timing still remained.

Launch new window : Southern Africa famine
In pictures: Southern Africa famine


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Horn of Africa

Southern Africa

West Africa

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01 Oct 02 | Africa
07 Jun 02 | Africa
06 Jun 02 | Africa
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