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Japan steps in to help the hungry of Lesotho

MASERU The United Nations World Food Programme today expressed gratitude to the Government of Japan for a large donation worth 5.7 million Loti (JPY100 million or US$890,000) which has been used to buy food aid in the Kingdom of Lesotho.

At a ceremony in Lesotho's capital, the Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, Daniel Rakoro Phororo, officially received the bulk of the nearly 1,200 tonne donation which will be distributed by WFP. Also present at the ceremony were Toshinori Shigeie, Japan's Ambassador to South Africa, and WFP Country Director for Lesotho, Techeste Zergaber.

"Thousands of Basotho who have been devastated by drought and the scourge of HIV/AIDS will benefit from Japan's generous donation," Zergaber said. "WFP is using the funds to purchase urgently needed food supplies for those people who were unable to produce enough of their own food to last until the next harvest."

Earlier in the day, Ambassador Shigeie visited a WFP school feeding project and health centre to see at first hand the dramatic impact food aid has both on attendance rates and in support of malnourished women and children. WFP feeds 610,000 Basotho, including more than 180,000 school children each day.

The Government of Lesotho declared a State of Emergency in February as the country descended into its third consecutive year of severe drought. Domestic cereal production in 2003/2004 was estimated at about 49,000 tonnes, which is less than half of last year's production, and one-third of the previous five-year average.

Other factors affecting Lesotho's food production over recent years include an HIV/AIDS adult prevalence rate of 29 per cent which has undermined agriculture, leaving thousands of households destitute. Rising food prices, high unemployment, and soil erosion have compounded the situation.

"Lesotho, like all of southern Africa, will continue to need support as long as drought and HIV continue to threaten the country's social fabric," Zergaber said. "It is therefore extremely important that governments are ready to assist in times of crisis and to stand by countries long after the media spotlight has moved on. This donation from Japan is therefore very welcome."

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: in 2003 we gave food aid to a record 104 million people in 81 countries, including 56 million hungry children.

WFP Global School Feeding Campaign For just 19 US cents a day, you can help WFP give children in poor countries a healthy meal at school -- a gift of hope for a brighter future.

Visit our website: www.wfp.org

Mads Lofvall
WFP Lesotho
Tel. 022-314-587 (office)/ 06-200-0059 (mobile)

Mike Huggins
WFP Johannesburg
Tel. +27-11-517-1662 (office)/+27-832-913-750 (mobile)

Kaoru Nemoto
WFP Japan
Tel. +81-3-5766-5364 (office)/+81-90-98449990(mobile)