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UN food agency says new crisis looming in Zimbabwe, 2.2 million people need food handouts

The United Nations food agency says Zimbabwe is facing "a looming food crisis" with 2.2 million people — one in four of the rural population — expected to need emergency aid in coming months.

The U.N. World Food Program said Tuesday additional food handouts will start next month and will be scaled up until the next harvests in March.

The agency said rising hunger, mostly in southern districts, was caused by erratic weather, the high cost and shortages of seed and fertilizer in the troubled economy and a 15 percent rise in prices for the corn staple after poor harvests this year.

In years of political and economic turmoil, Zimbabwe has needed regular food handouts. About 1.4 million people in the population of 13 million received food aid last year.