A Zimbabwean woman tends a crop of maize outside Harare, January 20, 2016. About 14 million people face hunger in Southern Africa because of a drought that has been exacerbated by an El Nino weather pattern, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said on Monday. In Zimbabwe, 1.5 million people, more than 10 percent of the population, face hunger, WFP said. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

Johannesburg - Zimbabwean authorities said they ordered 469 000 metric tons of corn to feed hungry people as southern Africa’s worst drought in at least two decades cut local production of the staple.

The country’s president, Robert Mugabe, declared the drought a national disaster on February 5, after authorities said the number of people needing assistance could rise to 3 million between now and March 2017, when harvests traditionally begin.

“The corn is at various stages of arrival, depending on where it was sourced,” Jasper Marangwanda, chairman of the Zimbabwe Importation Task Force, told reporters Wednesday in the capital, Harare.

Corn has been bought from neighbouring Zambia, Mozambique and South Africa, he said.

Zimbabwe will need at least 700 000 tons of corn to feed people and livestock this year and avert disaster.

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The United Nations’ World Food Programme said March 16 that $220 million will be needed to assist citizens, either by providing them with corn or with money to buy it.

The country consumes about 1.8 million tons of corn each year, according to the Agriculture Ministry.