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DAR ES SALAAM – The United Nations World Food Programme today urgently appealed for US$16.6 million to feed 565,000 people in Tanzania facing severe hunger because of drought. After very poor rainy seasons in 2005, when food and cash crop production plummeted by 50-70 percent, this year’s annual long rains across much of the country faltered and closed below normal.

With cereal prices around 85 percent higher than average and huge numbers of livestock either dead or severely emaciated, many families are eating only one meal a day.

“With more than half a million people in dire need, we really need funding now for this new emergency operation,” said Patrick Buckley, WFP Tanzania Country Director. “Although the government scaled up its assistance for this crisis with subsidized grain supplies, a significant proportion of poor people still need food assistance, particularly the destitute.”

“If we are to help these families – whom we should start feeding as soon as possible – we need the international community to make rapid contributions. We are extremely grateful to those donors who have responded immediately, but we urgently need more funds,” said Buckley.

Buckley said WFP required 33,900 metric tons of maize for the 565,000 most vulnerable in Tanzania from May until September, when needs would be reviewed. In a separate appeal in February, the Government of Tanzania asked the international community for 100,000 tons of grain to extend its subsidized sales beyond April for 3.2 million drought affected people.

The drought has hit more than 85 percent of districts in Tanzania. A rapid vulnerability assessment by government, non-governmental organisations and UN agencies in January found 3.7 million people needed food assistance – up from 600,000 in September 2005, just before the drought began.

One of the poorest countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Tanzania is particularly vulnerable to shocks such as drought. Even in normal times, rates of malnutrition among children are high. A recent nutrition survey from the National Bureau of Statistics estimated that in 2004-05, weight for age malnutrition rates among children under five in Tanzania were 22 percent.

In northern pastoral areas, the rush to sell emaciated and dying stock at the peak of the drought caused cattle prices to plummet to a quarter of the norm, with some animals too thin to bring even throw-away prices. Although prices are stabilizing with recent rains, without help to re-stock, the families who have lost their animals may struggle to feed themselves for years.

Contributions permitting, WFP’s emergency operation will reach 565,000 people in marginal agricultural areas, where subsistence farmers and small pastoralists have been hit by repeated cycles of poor harvests and pasture. Children under five will account for at least 10 percent of the beneficiaries. The operation will give special attention to pregnant and nursing mothers.

Community managed targeting and distribution will ensure that the new emergency operation does not duplicate ongoing WFP operations – provision of school feeding for 300,000 people, food for assets creation and assistance for families affected by HIV/AIDS as well as a continuing relief and recovery operation.

Donors who have already supported the new emergency operation are: Saudi Arabia (US$2 million); Canada (US$1.9 million); Turkey (US$200,000); and private donors (US$32,000); the funding shortfall stands at 75%, or US$12.4 million