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Financial crisis may worsen food crunch it eclipsed

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"Food prices are dropping, which is great, but its entirely too early to say that the food crisis is over," says Marcus Prior, a spokesman for the UN's World Food Program (WFP) in Nairobi, Kenya.

He points out that the food crisis is taking its greatest toll on sub-Saharan Africa, where 1 in 3 people were already estimated to be chronically hungry before the crisis. Last year, staggering food inflation added another 24 million people to the total of malnourished.

"We've seen people have to make decisions, taking their children out of school … so the children can help with work," says Mr. Prior, adding that Somalia, northern Kenya, northern Uganda and Ethiopia are among the hardest hit, because of conflict, drought, and successive harvest failures.

In Southern Africa, many subsistence farmers already suffer from high rates of HIV/AIDS. The food crisis has made them particularly vulnerable. "They can't produce as much because they're spending their resources on healthcare," says Richard Lee, a WFP spokesman in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe has emerged as a flashpoint, with the UN already feeding four million people there. Money is running out, and the UN fears a full-scale humanitarian crisis by January. "The problem in Zimbabwe is [lack of] access to any food," says Mr. Lee. "People in rural areas, some of them harvested nothing, some of them harvested very little. It's a very serious situation."

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