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12M people in southern Africa need food now - FAO

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Sept 28, 2008 (ROME) — About 12 million people in southern Africa need immediate food assistance following a poor cereal harvest, and the situation in war-town Sudan is particularly alarming, a U.N. food agency said Wednesday.

People in Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe all will need emergency supplies by November, according to a report by the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization. In Malawi alone about 4.6 million people - or 40 percent of the population - are facing food shortages because of the rising price of maize.

The number of people facing shortages in Zimbabwe could reach 3 million, and the agency’s report warned that prospects for 2006 were bleak, given the short supply of food and high costs of farming necessities such as seeds, fuel and fertilizer.

However, a good harvest in South Africa yielded more than enough to cover the region’s maize import requirements and could help bring relief to the nearby countries, said Shukri Ahmed, an FAO economist and one of the authors of the report.

"We are suggesting that the international community support countries through cash donations and let them buy from South Africa," Ahmed said, pointing out that the move would save on transportation costs.

Overall, 24 countries in sub-Saharan Africa - or about 30.5 million people - face food emergencies of different levels and about 3.2 million tons of food aid is required to cover 2004 and 2005, Ahmed said.

The U.N. agency also found that the situation in Sudan - particularly in the southern part of the country just emerging from civil war and Darfur engulfed in an unrelated war - was "particularly alarming due to prolonged conflict."

Last week, the top U.N. envoy for Sudan, Jan Pronk, told the Security Council that violence in Darfur was on the rise, despite ongoing talks between government officials and rebel forces in the Nigerian capital of Abuja.

The crisis in Sudan’s western region of Darfur erupted when rebels took up arms against what they saw as years of state neglect and discrimination against Sudanese of African origin. The government is accused of responding with a counterinsurgency campaign in which the ethnic Arab militia, known as Janjaweed, committed widespread abuses against ethnic Africans.

At least 180,000 people have died in the Darfur conflict - many from hunger and disease. The fighting has driven some 2 million people from their homes.

"Access to food is worsening for returnees and poor households in parts of southern Sudan, and the continued crisis in greater Darfur remains the most pressing humanitarian problem," the food agency said in a statement.

The U.N. is providing food and medicine supplies to some 2.5 million people in Darfur.

The FAO estimated that nearly 1 million people need humanitarian assistance in Somalia, due to a below-average harvest and an upsurge in civil strife, and that crops in Niger "are developing satisfactorily."

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On the Net:

http://www.fao.org

(AP/ST)

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