U.N. food agency says faces $610 million shortfall for southern Africa drought relief

A child drinks water from a cup in drought-hit Masvingo, Zimbabwe, June 1, 2016. Picture taken June 1, 2016. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - The United Nations' food agency said on Thursday it needed $730 million over the next 12 months for relief in seven southern African countries hit hard by a blistering drought and faced a $610 million shortfall. The World Food Programme (WFP) said in a statement the seven countries were Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho, Madagascar, Swaziland and Zambia. In Malawi, WFP said it needed $288 million but had only sourced $43 million, while in Zimbabwe - where drought has exacerbated an economic meltdown which has led to unrest - $228 million was required but only a tenth of that has been raised. An El Nino weather pattern, which ended in May, triggered drought conditions across the region which hit the staple maize and other crops and dented economic growth. (Reporting by Ed Stoddard; Editing by James Macharia)