More than 3.5 million people in southern Africa are in need of famine relief to get through one of the "harshest hunger seasons" in recent years, the World Food Programme (WFP) said Friday.
Much of the region had enjoyed run of large harvests up to 2011, but erratic rainfall and drought since then has meant that the United Nations agency and other donors have to step in to help governments affected, WFP southern Africa deputy director Brenda Barton said.
"Large numbers of smallholder families are in the grip of what is set to be one of the harshest hunger seasons of recent years," she said.
The organization was coordinating food deliveries to the most vulnerable families.
Southern African countries traditionally face shortages in the December - April summer rainy season when domestic supplies begin to run out and families have to wait five months for their new crops of maize, the region's staple food, to ripen.
Worst afflicted was Malawi where the WFP was feeding 1.8 million people in the densely populated south of the country, Barton said, while in Zimbabwe 1.6 million were depending on aid.
The country used to have a reputation as "Africa's breadbasket" but has not been able to feed itself since President Robert Mugabe drove out 4,500 white commercial farmers and 1 million workers and their families in his "revolutionary land reform" that began in 2000.
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