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Hunger on the rise despite flood of food aid into Mozambique. Civil war wreaks economic havoc, leaving 3.5 million people in need

Hundreds of refugees watch helplessly as corn stalks wilt under the burning sun in this northern Mozambican village. Six weeks of drought ruined this year's crop, and 100 residents of Benga now depend on international food aid.

Even if there had been enough rain to ensure a good crop, Benga would have been severely short of food, for it has been flooded, in the last two months, by 800 refugees fleeing this country's civil war.

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Benga is symbolic of much of Mozambique, where the combination of an intensifying guerrilla war and bad weather threaten millions with famine.

The United Nations, Western countries, and private relief and development agencies are pouring in food, and donor relief is expected to reach 450,000 tons. But that's still 225,000 tons less than the nation needs.

The United States is by far the biggest donor, providing 150,000 tons of food. And US officials in the capital of Maputo, say Washington may donate another 45,000 tons this year.

But severe transport problems and the threat of attacks by the rebels of the Mozambique National Resistance Movement (Renamo) are hampering the relief effort.

``Mozambique is really suffering,'' says Arturo Hein Caceres, the UN Special Coordinator appointed last month to direct emergency relief operations here. ``But this is not an Ethiopia or Sudan yet,'' he says.

Still, UN officials estimate that 3.5 million people - one quarter of the population - now need food relief. Hundreds of thousands of people in the northern provinces of Tete, Zamb'ezia, and Niassa are desperate, though not yet starving.

The current emergency marks the second time in three years that Mozambique has been threatened by famine. In 1983-84, when many nations throughout the continent were experiencing famine, 100,000 people starved to death in the southeastern Province of Inhambane.

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Even though there was a serious drought in 1983-84, the war against the South African-backed Renamo was seen then, as it is now, as the principal culprit in this country's disaster.

``If it were not for the problem of war, we could feed people,'' says Augusto Mange, the provincial economics secretary in Tete Province.

Mr. Hein says that the key cause of hunger ``is the destabilization this country is suffering.'' Renamo has publicly announced its intent to overthrow the government of Joaquim Chissano by wreaking economic havoc.

The current crisis was born last fall, when Renamo staged a series of raids on villages in Tete and Zamb'ezia Provinces, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes. The attacks, coming during the planting season, struck at the heart of two of Mozambique's most fertile provinces.

Instead of planting their fields the farmers fled to refugee centers and became dependent on food aid.

``The breadbaskets of this country are now occupied by Renamo,'' says James Maher, officer of the US-based Food For Peace program.

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