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Tuesday, 19 February, 2002, 20:08 GMT
Famine stalks Southern Africa
Supermarket shelves
Zimbabwe supermarkets have run out of maize
Nearly four million people in Southern Africa are in desperate need of food aid, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation has warned.

The FAO said that harvests fell by up to 25% last year and said the situation was particularly acute in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

What we are experiencing is real human disaster

Malawi's Catholic priests
Stocks of the staple food crop, maize, are reported to be low and market prices are rising beyond the reach of large sections of the population.

This comes as Malawi's Catholic priests urge the government to declare a national emergency because of the lack of food.

The FAO blamed the weather and reduced planting for most of the shortfall. It said Zimbabwe had harvested less than half its usual amount because of disruption caused by land seizures.

Dire outlook

Emergency food aid would be needed from the middle of April until the next crop was harvested, said the UN agency.

"WFP (World Food Programme) has started distributions of food aid but more pledges are required to avoid interruptions in the emergency operations," it said.

Hungry child
Hunger threatens the lives of thousands of children

A statement from Malawi's Catholic priests shared the dire outlook of the FAO.

"What we are experiencing is real human disaster, a famine - it is killing many people especially in the rural areas," they said.

One priest reported that his parish officiated at least seven funeral rites in one day for people who had died of hunger.

The priests also appealed to the government to subsidise the price of imported maize but the authorities say this would be too expensive.

Shops in many parts of Zimbabwe have reportedly run out of maize.

See also:

23 Jan 02 | Africa
Food aid arrives in Zimbabwe
22 Jan 02 | Business
Grain shortages bite in Zimbabwe
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