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GENEVA, March 4 (Reuters) - More than 6 million people across Angola, Lesotho, Malawi and Zimbabwe are at risk of severe food shortages because of repeated cycles of drought and flooding, the global humanitarian body IFRC said on Monday.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said the crisis was passing largely unnoticed in the outside world and its appeals for financial support had won limited support.
"This is a chronic crisis in which cycles of drought and flooding are destroying crops, livestock and safe drinking-water supplies. People don't have enough to eat or clean water to drink," said IFRC official Alexander Matheou.
"Malaria, cholera and diarrhoea are common," said Matheou, the Geneva-based body's regional representative in southern Africa, in a statement distributed to a news briefing.
The IFRC said four countries were suffering particularly badly, with 725,000 people in Lesotho - about 40 per cent of the country's population - hit by the crisis.
Nearly 2 million were at risk in Malawi, more than 1.8 million in Angola, and 1.6 million in rural areas of Zimbabwe. In all four, rates of child malnutrition were soaring, reaching 50 percent more than last year in some areas.
An additional complication, Matheou said, was the prevalence of HIV across southern Africa.
Some 34 percent of people around the world carrying the disease live in the region, and 23.2 percent of Lesotho's population were infected, the globe's third highest rate among adults, the IFRC official said.
The organisation said lack of food can undermine efforts to counter the spread of HIV, because the sickening effect that the anti-retroviral treatment has on an empty stomach deters many sufferers from taking it.
"There needs to be a large-scale, well-funded, coordinated effort between governments, businesses and humanitarian and development agencies to alleviate immediate suffering and support people to build economically viable lives," said Matheou.
An appeal to donors in October for 1,119,000 Swiss francs ($1.2 million) to fund IFRC programmes in Lesotho had so far brought in only 17 percent. Another for Angola for 1,562,562 Swiss francs had been only 4 percent met.
Appeals for Malawi and Zimbabwe in October and December had had a better response with 57 percent of the total sought for Malawi, 1,025,310 Swiss francs, and 33 percent of the 1,290,342 Swiss francs sought for Zimbabwe now received. ($1 = 0.9453 Swiss francs) (Reported by Robert Evans; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)