April 25, 2006

Two million face hunger in Burundi: aid group

NAIROBI (Reuters) - About two million people face hunger in drought-hit Burundi, aid group ActionAid said on Tuesday as it began food deliveries in the central African country.

Hundreds of people and tens of thousands of livestock in east and central Africa have died in one of the worst droughts to hit the region in years.

ActionAid said poor rainfall over the past six years in the north, northeastern and central provinces have brought starvation to areas traditionally regarded as Burundi's food basket, with crops of maize and sorghum failing.

"In the countryside, many families are picking and cooking wild leaves in an attempt to satisfy their hunger," ActionAid said in a statement.

Chronic poverty and 12 years of civil war, in which more than 300,000 people have been killed and many displaced, have compounded the effects of poor rainfall, the group added.

The anti-poverty organization said it delivered 70 tons of food worth $35,800 last week to one of five provinces the government has declared to be in a state of famine.

It said malnutrition in the country of seven million people was widespread and hundreds are believed to have died. Diseases such as malaria were on the increase.

Millions across the region are in urgent need of assistance, the United Nations says, with Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia taking the brunt of the drought.

Other agencies such as the U.N. World Food Programme have distributed food aid in Burundi. An estimated $75 million of aid is still needed for the country, ActionAid said.