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Africa

Red Cross Secretary General visits hunger-stricken Zimbabwe

The El Nino-induced drought has left around 28 million people across southern Africa in need of food aid. Elhadj As Sy has been assessing the drought’s impact in the region.

In the Mudzi district on Zimbabwe's border with Mozambique, about 250km (155 miles) east of Harare, local women are singing songs in praise of the Red Cross. They're celebrating the arrival of Elhadj As Sy, the Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). He visited Mudzi on Monday to the severity of

food shortages

- part of a trip around southern Africa which winds up on Tuesday.

"The impact of the drought could be seen with naked eyes. Fields which could be full of harvested product are empty. Dry sun all around. We see people having to survive with so little," Elhadj As Sy told DW.

"But there is the invisible impact which is more important," he added. "What does it mean for a child to go to bed hungry? What does it mean for a mother to hear her children cry for food - and not be able to satisfy those needs?"

Struggling to survive

For many in Mudzi district, that is now a reality. President Robert Mugabe's government's

recent assessment

said more than 85 percent of the area's population needs food assistance. But that assistance seems to be trickling in more slowly than it is needed.

Patricia Nhauro in a red hat which shades her face from the sun

Like many Mudzi residents, Patricia Nhauro is struggling to provide for her family

One of the affected families is that of Patricia Nhauro, who looks after her seven grandchildren and her mother. "All my children died, and since their deaths, no one can assist me with source of livelihood," she told DW. "I have no money to send my grandchildren to school. I used to raise livestock - but they are gone. All I want is sadza," says Nhauro, referring to Zimbabwe's staple food. "Even if I went to relatives in Harare, they have their own problems there. When you get something, you cook very small portions so that the grandchildren can survive."

Appeal for funding

It is these issues that IFRC's Elhadj As Sy wants to bring to the fore at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul next month. His United Nations counterpart Ban Ki-Moon is expected to attend the meeting in Turkey together with other humanitarian organisations.

Elhadj As Sy is expected to launch an appeal on Tuesday calling for $110 million (97 million euros) to improve the lives of the 28 million people across southern Africa who are suffering like Nhauro and her grandchildren. He says the IFRC has been working to help the region recover from the effects of El Nino.

Elhadj As Sy sitting in a dry river bed in Mudzi

The river in Mudzi has completely dried up, as a resident shows Elhadj As Sy

"We are to double our own response and looking at mobilizing $110 million by December to put into cash transfer programmes, looking at supporting income generating activities, small water and irrigation projects, livelihood and livestock and capacity building of the communities - the combination of which we believe will go a long way in building resilience," As Sy told DW.

But with no rain forecast soon, dealing with the impact of the El Nino induced drought is a tough challenge - and it is getting increasingly difficult as more areas around the continent are hit. Not only have millions of people been left without food in southern Africa, the drought has also affected some parts of the Horn of Africa, including Ethiopia, which has asked for international assistance to feed about 10 million people.

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