Millions Feared at Risk of Starvation in Southern Africa

U.S.-Based Catholic Relief Services Raises Alarm

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BALTIMORE, Maryland, MAY 5, 2002 ( The ongoing drought and lack of food throughout southern Africa has reached critical levels, Catholic Relief Services warns.

Zimbabwe´s announcement of a «state of disaster» is the latest event in an unfolding spectacle of hunger plaguing the region.

Between 2 million and 5 million people are at risk of starvation in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, and countless millions more are in danger of severe malnutrition and disease, reported CRS, the foreign aid organization of the Catholic Church in the United States.

The last three years have seen a shortage of rainfall and poor harvests, with this year´s drought compounding the situation causing crop failure and driving up food prices.

«Across the region, people are suffering. We have come through the first months of the year, known as the ´hungry season,´ only to find a harvest that is far below expectations,» said Idumbo Kasele, CRS´ agricultural technical adviser for southern Africa.

«In desperation, many are now eating the seeds that were to be planted for the next harvest, which is still some 10 months away,» Kasele said.

Food deficits in one country are typically met by imports from elsewhere in the region. The ability of these nations to cope with the current situation, however, has been exhausted after cycles of flood and drought, which have coincided with political and economic instability.

Emergency food distribution, already begun in Malawi, will be expanded, with complementary programming to provide seed distribution for the next planting season and education projects to teach sustainable farming practices.

Similar efforts are under way in Zambia. In Zimbabwe, CRS is organizing emergency nutrition centers to serve as safety nets for the malnourished, many of whom are living with HIV/AIDS.

«Food insecurity, while acute right now, won´t be solved solely with distributions,» Kasele noted. «We need to make sure that people are prepared for the future. This is a drought-prone region, but no one need die of hunger; we are working not only to help stave off this crisis but to mitigate future ones as well.»

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