The World Food Programme (WFP) will provide targeted emergency assistance to some 50,000 pregnant and nursing mothers and children under five in Mozambique's northern Nampula province.
The response follows an outbreak of brown streak disease which had devastated large portions of the cassava crop in several districts of Nampula.
WFP's deputy director in Mozambique, Karin Manente, told IRIN an assessment mission had visited the affected districts to establish needs. Cassava is the main staple food in that part of the country.
"We're setting up a programme with Save the Children US, [through which] we will support 50,000 pregnant and nursing women as well as children under five in the affected districts with a ration of fortified blended foods," Manente said.
The "targeted food assistance" would be aimed at the most vulnerable groups only, as opposed to general food aid distributions. About 300 mt of food aid will be distributed every month to beneficiaries of the programme, which is to run for six months from early November.
Manente expressed concern about the status of the food aid pipeline in Mozambique. On Thursday last week WFP launched a regional appeal for US $404 million to support a monthly average of 1.5 million people in five Southern African countries, including Mozambique.
However, she told IRIN "we have not received any confirmation [of contributions] to the Mozambique portion of the appeal".
"For next year we need US $74 million, for the whole of next year we need more than 3,000 mt [of food aid] per month and, come January, we don't have anything in our pipeline. So we are very concerned," Manente added.
She noted that by January "our caseload will be 310,000 people, of which about half are school children and 40 percent are people living with HIV/AIDS".
Beneficiaries will be targeted through community assistance programmes and health centres. "A smaller proportion will be reached through food-for-work activities," she added.
A cycle of drought, floods and consequent food shortages, coupled with the impact of HIV/AIDS, had severely eroded the coping ability of households in the most affected areas of Mozambique, and ongoing support of the communities affected by shocks was important to the country's recovery, "otherwise you will lose all the gains you have worked for", Manente commented.
On launching the regional appeal, WFP's Regional Director for Southern Africa, Mike Sackett, said: "If we don't step in now with support, there's a very real danger that Southern Africa will descend into a perpetual cycle of tragedy, with children missing out on education, and vital agricultural knowledge being lost."