ROME, 21 October 2002 -- The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has urged the international community to provide aid for Southern Africa and Afghanistan where people are suffering severe food shortages and are threatened by famine.

The appeal was launched during a meeting of senior FAO experts and donor country representatives at the Organization's Rome headquarters. FAO's Director of Emergency Operations and Rehabilitation, Mrs Anne Bauer and Mr Henri Carsalade, Assistant Director-General, Technical Cooperation said they had witnessed the breadth of the tragedy facing both Afghanistan and Southern Africa during recent visits to the areas.

More than 14 million people need emergency food aid in drought-stricken Southern Africa. One of the worst affected areas is Zimbabwe where more than half of the population is suffering from severe food shortages. Winter harvests are expected to be scarce and the situation risks deteriorating even further.

FAO said it had received a mere 34 percent of the total funds it had appealed for in mid-August to deal with the Southern African food crisis, "This is seriously hindering our efforts to deal with the crisis," an FAO expert said.

In Afghanistan, where FAO is working with national authorities, specialized agencies and non-governmental organizations to rebuild the country, some 7.5 million people still depend on humanitarian aid.

"The task facing us after decades of war and desolation is immense," an expert said. The Organization's emergency program is based around three key areas -- rebuilding public administration, offering humanitarian aid and improving household living conditions.

FAO has completed 22 emergency aid projects and five short-term projects in the country for a total of US$ 29 million. Ten short and medium-term projects are being prepared with a total value of US$ 24 million.

A total of US$ 53 million in aid for Afghanistan has either already been received or is expected to arrive in the next few months, FAO said. Yet the total cost of rehabilitating the country's agricultural sector is US$ 202 million. Mrs Bauer underlined the urgent need to feed the 2.2 million Afghans returning home after the end of hostilities.

"We must help Afghan households, and especially rural women, to begin farming activities to enable them to generate income," she said, adding FAO's efforts to promote money-generating initiatives such as poultry-raising were already bringing hope to many rural people.