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XINHUA NEWS SERVICE REPORTS FROM THE AFRICAN CONTINENT

UN launch largest ever emergency food relief operations in Malawi

UNITED NATIONS (Xinhua) -- The World Food Programme (WFP) has begun the largest emergency food relief operation in Malawi where as many as 6.5 million people—nearly 40 per cent of the population—may require emergency assistance in coming months, a UN spokesman told reporters here Wednesday.

This is a new round of operations in Malawi and "this is set to become the largest ever emergency food relief operation in the country’s history," Farhan Haq, the deputy UN spokesman, said at a daily news briefing here.

"The food security crisis in the country is not only due to this year’s unprecedented drought but to the impact of severe flooding and prolonged dry spells last year," Haq said.

Malawi is one of the countries in southern Africa worst affected by El Nino-related drought.

Across southern Africa, as many as 18 million people will require emergency assistance in El Nino affected countries between now and March, with needs peaking in January.

Of these, WFP is planning to reach 11.9 million people with food assistance.

Malawi is one of half a dozen nations in the region which has declared drought-related disasters in recent months.

Malawi’s already strained food security situation is worsening following the most recent harvest which suffered widespread failure, particularly in the south.

Some 80 percent of the affected people are smallholder farmers who rely on what they can produce to feed themselves and their families.

This is a country with high levels of stunting—low growth for age—as a result of malnutrition, as well as high rates of HIV/AIDS infections and related deaths which have left many orphans and child-headed households.

"This is a dire situation, one that the world needs to take notice of right now before it’s too late," said WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin who Tuesday concluded a three-day visit to Malawi.

"I’ve talked with women in rural areas who told me they have enough food for just a few more weeks, after which they will have nothing," Cousin said.

"We must urgently assist the people of Malawi and those affected by the drought in neighbouring countries, before food insecurity spirals into hunger and starvation."

WFP concluded its last round of food and cash-based relief in Malawi in April.

Seasonal relief for the poorest and most vulnerable is normally offered between January and March at the height of the lean season—that period preceding the harvest during which domestic food stocks become increasingly depleted.

Following floods and drought last year, WFP responded to needs during the last lean season as early as October.

This year, however, emergency relief is starting now—that is because the lean season has already begun in many districts or is soon to start in others.

The number of people currently in need in Malawi is two and a half times higher than last year, already a bad year, the UN agency said.

WFP’s regional funding requirements for the most drought-affected countries from now until April next year is 535 million U.S. dollars; 217 million U.S. dollars of this is required to cover Malawi’s needs alone.

There is a particularly urgent need for funding for Malawi to ensure that food stocks can be procured, transported and pre-positioned before seasonal rains start in November, making many roads in remote areas impassable, WFP said.
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EARLIER REPORT:

United Nations says 6.5 million people in Malawi need urgent food aid

UNITED NATIONS New York (Xinhua) -- Some 6.5 million people in Malawi, or 40 percent of the country’s population,need urgent humanitarian assistance due to the devastating impact of El Nino, the deputy UN spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters here Tuesday.

Ertharin Cousin, the executive director of the World Food Programme (WFP), is in Malawi this week to see for herself the impact of the devastating El Nino-induced drought and to appeal for urgent food assistance, Haq said at a daily news briefing here.

He also added that an estimated 18 million people in the region’s hardest hit countries—Lesotho, Madagascar, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi—need emergency food support.

However, the UN food agency has only secured about a quarter of the 549 million U.S. dollars needed for the assistance, he said.

El Nino—which means the Little Boy in Spanish—and its sister La Nina—the Little Girl—are weather events, which contribute to changes in climate and weather.

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