Written by Stephanie Kriner, Staff Writer, DisasterRelief.org, with news reports
Thousands of southern Africans - many of them children - have succumb to hunger-related causes because of a food shortage, according to relief groups. Without immediate international aid the situation could grow into widespread starvation, they warn.
Malawi is facing its worst food crisis in 50 years. The hunger and malnutrition inflicting some 20 million Africans is the result of severe droughts that dried crops and floods that destroyed much of what survived in countries already wrought with economic instability.
There is little hope that the situation will improve anytime soon. Weather experts have predicted that El Nino could hit the region at the end of the summer, delivering another drought during a prime grain-growing season. A U.N. World Food Program official has said that if crops fail again in southern Africa in the coming season, the scale of disaster would be "unimaginable."
The U.N. World Food Program (WFP) warned last month that six nations in the region already face food shortages. Some 2.6 million people are going hungry. Even Zimbabwe, one of Africa's most fertile and disaster-resistant countries, needs assistance for millions of at-risk citizens. An Associated Press reporter recently described the familiar, but horrifying, effects that hunger is taking on children in Malawi:
"The children's eyes are bulging and listless, their shoulder blades jab out of their emaciated backs and their heads and bloated bellies seem grotesquely huge next to their shriveled limbs."
The leaders of Malawi, Lesotho and Zimbabwe have declared states of emergency, appealing to the international community for food assistance. Experts warn that the current stocks located in the countries and already promised by donors will not prevent massive starvation. Of the $69 million needed in immediate assistance, only about $3 million has been raised to make up for crop shortfalls.
In all, an estimated 11 million people throughout southern Africa will need food aid to survive over the next six months. The latest harvest figures show that Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia and Lesotho - as feared - face the most desperate situation. Mozambique and Swaziland also face grave food shortages.
Children are the most vulnerable during food shortages.
In Zimbabwe, all rain-fed crops have failed and the country has only a quarter of the food it will need over the next 12 months. Half a million people face "severe hunger," according to WFP.
Meanwhile in Malawi, epic floods last year triggered the country's current food shortage, leaving some 3.1 million people in need of aid. The effects of the floods were exacerbated by drought and a lack of seeds and fertilizers. The situation forced hungry residents to eat much of their harvest before it had matured.
Relief organizations, including the UN and members of the International Red Cross Movement, are scrambling to prevent more hunger-related deaths.
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