As threat of hunger rises in Malawi UN food agency appeals for

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With the number of Malawians threatened by hunger climbing to more than 5 million, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today urged donors to quickly provide crucially needed aid to offset a crisis marked by sharp rises in malnutrition rates and maize prices three months earlier than the traditional lean season.“For six months WFP, together with other aid agencies, has been warning of an imminent food crisis in Malawi and the rest of Southern Africa,” WFP Regional Director for Southern Africa Mike Sackett said. “Rising maize prices and malnutrition rates now mean that more people than before will need help to survive the lean season.“Before this turn of events we already had a massive shortage of funds, so it’s critical that donors redouble their efforts to ensure no one starves, especially children,” he added, saying the number of people WFP is now targeting in southern Malawi for the period up to April next year by almost a million to 2.9 million.The Government and other organizations have committed to feeding an additional 2.2 million people elsewhere in the country during the hunger period.Even before the increased needs for Malawi, WFP was facing a critical funding shortfall of $152 million for programmes in Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The situation is particularly acute in Malawi where this year’s maize production was the lowest since 1994 due to prolonged dry spells and shortages of seeds and fertilizer during the critical planting season.“Our window of opportunity to help Malawi and the rest of the region is closing fast,” Mr. Sackett said. “It can take up to four months to get food to those who need it, so cash and food donations must be given now if we are to reach the neediest in time. It will be too late once emaciated images appear on television screens.”Food prices usually rise from December up to the March/April harvest, when maize is scarcest and often unaffordable on the market and people have consumed their own reserves. But this year prices have not only rocketed to levels not normally seen until the height of the lean season in January/February, there is also less maize available.Earlier this week, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said some 12 million people would need food assistance in southern Africa until the next harvest, up from an earlier estimate of about 10 million.

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