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The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has hailed the Netherlands for contributing more than $100 million in 2005 to feed hungry people, mainly in Africa, and praised the type of donations for providing the flexibility required so food swiftly reaches those who need it most. “The generosity of the Dutch is really extraordinary,” WFP Executive Director James Morris said. “The Netherlands has surpassed itself this year by contributing to WFP $102 million so far after giving $78 million in 2004. This money is saving lives. There’s simply no better investment than that.” The most recent donation of almost US$10 million, which follows a recent plea sent by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to 27 heads of State, the European Commission and the African Development Bank, makes the Netherlands makes WFP’s fifth highest per capita donor for 2005, with every man, woman and child giving an average of $6.30.“If we are to avert a catastrophe in a few months’ time, then food and cash must be pledged immediately” to Southern Africa, Mr. Annan said in his letter. WFP has an immediate funding shortfall of $219 million to help 8.3 million of the most vulnerable people in southern Africa through to the next harvest in March and April 2006.The Netherlands has given a total of $13 million in cash for Southern Africa in 2005 and late 2004 without specifying which countries it should go to, giving WFP the opportunity to channel funds to less funded emergencies and to buy food locally rather than wait months for “in-kind” food shipments to arrive. “The crisis in southern Africa is at a critical stage and the world must respond quickly while we have the opportunity to stop hungry people becoming starving people,” Mr. Morris said. Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe have all been hit by a fourth successive year of erratic weather that destroyed large swathes of agricultural production across the region. The food shortages have a devastating impact on millions of people affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the region. Southern Africa has nine of the 10 countries with the highest adult prevalence rates in the world; as a result, average life expectancy is declining as the number of children being orphaned rises. There are currently four million orphans in Southern Africa, many of whom do not have regular access to food, clean water, sanitation and education.