Nearly 13 million people in southern Africa are at risk of starvation, James Morris, the head of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Envoy on the humanitarian crisis in the region, said today. Mr. Morris told reporters in New York that half of the 12.8 million vulnerable people are living in Zimbabwe, 3 million in Malawi, more than 2 million in Zambia, half a million in southern Mozambique, as well as tens of thousands in Lesotho and Swaziland. WFP has received pledges for about half of the more than $500 million it is soliciting from donors for southern Africa’s food needs, Mr. Morris said, hailing the “extraordinary” support from the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union. “It is really important that we have our commitments in place soon so that we can get the food pre-positioned before the October rains come, because once the rains arrive it becomes difficult to move huge vehicles through dirt roads,” he said. Turning to the broader international picture, the WFP chief called attention to the large global demands for food emergencies, noting that the agency is feeding some 10 million people in Afghanistan and 6.5 million in the Democratic Republic People’s Republic of Korea. In order to “do what needs to be done to save lives and begin to give young lives hope and opportunity,” WFP would have to encourage some traditional donors “to be far more generous,” while gaining new contributions from countries around the world that had improved their economies to the point enough to be able to help those less fortunate. Another key component of meeting global food needs would involve improving access to agricultural surpluses, including by exempting their use in the humanitarian context from commercial and trade considerations. “WFP serves the hungriest and poorest people in the world wherever they are,” said Mr. Morris. “People that we serve have absolutely no cash resources to participate in the world economy, so if the world can somehow figure out how to exempt from the general trade discussions the use of surplus food for humanitarian purposes that would go a long way.” In a separate development, WFP today announced that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had committed to a donation of over 2,400 tons of maize – worth about $1 million – to support the agency’s response in southern Africa. Hailing this move, Mr. Morris welcomed the donation from the Utah-based church, calling it a “significant contribution [which] comes at such an important time, when millions of people are facing more and more hunger each day, and some barely surviving.”

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