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Thursday, 7 March, 2002, 12:53 GMT
Southern Africa threatened by famine
A malnourished baby
Seventy percent of Malawi's population face starvation
People are starving to death across southern Africa following years of poor harvests and erratic rainfall.

The food crisis is most severe in Malawi, where hundreds of people have reportedly died in recent months, while deaths have also been reported in Mozambique.

Zimbabwe has promised food aid for all the country's children after a disastrous farming season.

Officials have warned that 70% of Malawi's 10m people are at risk of starvation.

A group of charities says more than 300 people have died of hunger in the last two months.

According to the group, the Malawi Economic Justice Network (MEJN), this figure could underestimate the total number of deaths.

Freak weather

MEJN's director Collins Magalasi, said that despite last week's declaration of a national disaster and a plea for food aid, remote areas have not received any relief.

The MEJN's statement says some parents are trying to sell their children to buy food, while other villagers are fighting over the little available food.

Malawian girl
Malawians with food are attacked by villagers

It cites one incident where a mother and her four children were poisoned because they had some food in their household.

Erratic weather has ruined crops across southern Africa.

In Mozambique, spells of drought in recent years followed by flooding have led to shortages.

The food crisis is particularly acute in the Machanga district, north of the capital Maputo, where 10 people have reportedly died of hunger since the beginning of the year.

National disaster

The troubles in nearby Zimbabwe have made matters worse. There, the land crisis has destroyed food production and a country that used to export food is now threatened by hunger.

The United Nations World Food Programme estimates that 500,000 Zimbabweans face serious food shortages.

As a result of the political crisis there, food destined for neighbouring Malawi often cannot get through, as transport routes are disrupted.

President Mugabe has declared the agricultural season a national disaster.

He says the government is launching a programme of supplementary feeding for children nationwide.

The government blames the problems on drought but the BBC's Grant Ferrett says the upheaval caused by two years of illegal land seizures is clearly a significant factor.

See also:

06 Mar 02 | Africa
Spectre of starvation in Malawi
27 Feb 02 | Africa
Malawi declares famine emergency
19 Feb 02 | Africa
Famine stalks Southern Africa
19 Nov 01 | Africa
Malawi donors suspend aid
25 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Malawi
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