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Hailing aid effort in Malawi, UN envoy calls for further international support

Hailing aid effort in Malawi, UN envoy calls for further international support

Praising the international community's efforts to help alleviate the food shortage in southern Africa, a United Nations envoy to the region today called for further support to forestall the looming humanitarian crisis.

"I've been greatly heartened by the clear commitment and relentless efforts of relief workers and Malawian communities to meet the tremendous challenges they face," the Secretary General's Special Envoy for the humanitarian crisis in southern Africa, James Morris, said in Malawi, where he is continuing his two-week tour of the six most-affected countries. "But while major steps have already been made, the magnitude of this crisis demands an even greater response over the coming months."

The number of people at risk of famine in Malawi soared this month to 2.1 million from 500,000, while resources pledged so far stand at just 57 per cent of the $144 million needed for food and other supplies. The number of people in need will jump again to 3.2 people million in December, when the crisis is expected to peak.

As part of its assistance to the country, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) is participating in a newly approved special operation to repair the Nacala railway line, the only direct rail link between Mozambique and land-locked Malawi.

Built in 1970, sections of the track have fallen into major disrepair, which worsens during the rainy season, forcing the trains to move at a 10-kilometre-per-hour crawl and creating a two-month backlog in freight, according to WFP. Urgent repairs are needed along a 77-kilometre stretch of the rail line, close to the border with Malawi.

The Canadian Government has already pledged over $250,000 and there are promising signs that the United Kingdom will come forward soon with a significant contribution, the agency said.

Eight locomotives will also be leased in order to improve the capacity of the railway. The Governments of Malawi and Mozambique have agreed to contribute to the maintenance of the track and the locomotives.