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September 22, 2009

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Bad weather spells hunger for millions in Africa

POOR harvests due to lack of rain, combined with worsening conflict and the El Nino climatic effect, could leave millions more people in east Africa facing food shortages this year, the United Nations said yesterday.

A report by the UN Food and Agriculture organisation said that from Uganda to Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia a drop in cereal production was likely to increase the nearly 20 million people already dependent on food assistance in one of the world's poorest regions.

The perilous situation could be worsened by the El Nino climatic effect, which brings heavy rains towards the end of the year that produce floods and mudslides, ruining crops, killing livestock and damaging infrastructure, the FAO said.

El Nino, an abnormal warming of the waters of the equatorial Pacific, unhinges weather patterns around the world.

The food security situation is dire in conflict-torn Somalia, which faces its worst humanitarian crisis in 18 years, with approximately half the population - an estimated 3.6 million people - in need of emergency aid, the FAO said.

That includes 1.4 million rural people affected by severe drought, and 1.3 million internally displaced people as a result of escalating violence.

In Ethiopia, a partial failure of the secondary crop season, known as the belg, is expected to raise the number of people in need of emergency assistance to 6.2 million from 1.3 million at present.

In Kenya, the maize crop which is 80 percent of annual cereal production, is forecast 28 percent below usual levels at 1.84 million tonnes.

Meanwhile, a fourth successive poor harvest is expected in Uganda, with the worst hit area being the northern Acholi region which has been racked by years of violence between the army and the rebel Lord's Resistance Army.

More than one million people already suffer food shortages in Uganda, and the number could rise steadily this year, the FAO said.


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