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Drought has resulted in dozens of cattle dying in southern Zimbabwe.

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - A record 45 million people across southern Africa face severe food shortages in the next six months, with around a quarter of them currently enduring drought-induced “crisis” food insecurity, three United Nations agencies warned on Thursday.

The 16-member Southern African Development Community is in the grips of a severe drought, as climate change wreaks havoc in impoverished countries struggling to cope with extreme natural disasters, such as Cyclone Idai which devastated Mozambique earlier this year.

“We’ve had the worst drought in 35 years in central and western areas during the growing season,” said Margaret Malu, acting regional director for southern Africa at the World Food Programme (WFP).

“We must meet the pressing emergency food and nutrition needs of millions of people, but also invest in building the resilience of those threatened by ever more frequent and severe droughts, floods and storms,” Malu said in a statement.

WFP, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) appealed jointly for urgent funding to help mitigate the effects of climate change in Africa.

Southern Africa’s temperatures are rising at twice the global average, according to the International Panel on Climate Change, and the region includes six of the nine African countries set to be hardest-hit by adverse weather in coming years - DR Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

“With the region so prone to shocks and afflicted by high rates of chronic hunger, inequality and structural poverty, climate change is an existential emergency which must be tackled with the utmost urgency,” said Robson Mutandi, IFAD Director for the Southern Africa hub said. (Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by Giles Elgood)

FILE - Zimbabwe's civil servants carry placards as they march during a protest in the streets of the capital Harare, Feb. 19, 2010.

* Workers to take to the streets amid economic crisis

* Economy set to enter recession for first time in decade

* Public workers pushing for U.S. dollar-indexed pay

By MacDonald Dzirutwe

HARARE (Reuters) - Government workers in Zimbabwe on Thursday announced plans for a “massive” protest march next week to press for higher wages, as the finance minister said the economy would this year fall into recession for the first time since 2008.

Zimbabweans are experiencing daily hardships with the prices of basic goods, fuel and electricity soaring, while the Zimbabwe dollar continues to weaken against the U.S. dollar.

That has dimmed hopes of a quick economic recovery under President Emmerson Mnagagwa, who took power after the late Robert Mugabe was ousted in a coup in 2017.

The Apex Council of public sector unions said the government had not responded to its demands for U.S. dollar-indexed salaries to cushion workers against inflation that economists say reached 380% in September.

The unions said on Oct. 15. that the worst economic crisis in a decade - marked by 18-hour power cuts, soaring prices and shortages of foreign currency, fuel and medicines - meant they were unable to go to work.

“As a consequence of the above, the Apex Council is calling upon all civil servants to prepare for a massive protest march,” the council said.

In a letter to labour minister Sekai Nzenza, the union chair Cecilia Alexander and her deputy Thomas Muzondo said the demonstration would be held on Wednesday, when they would hand a petition to government.

Nzenza did not respond to calls seeking for comment.

Surging inflation has brought back memories of the horrors of a decade ago when 500 billion percent hyperinflation wiped out savings and forced the government to abandon its currency.

The planned march is a test for Mnangagwa, who is accused of using his predecessor’s heavy-handed tactics to stifle dissent after banning several opposition protests.

Critics say Mnangagwa, 76, lacks commitment to political reforms and tackling corruption but he has pleaded for time to bring the economy back.

Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube earlier told lawmakers that the economy is set to shrink by 6.5% this year - its first contraction in a decade - after a drought and power shortages.

Ncube said water in the Kariba dam, which can produce 1,050 MW, was so low that “we are dangerously close to a level where we have to cut off power generation”. Kariba was producing 122 MW on Thursday.

Zimbabwe would spend more than $300 million to import 840,000 tonnes of maize, after the drought left more than half the population in need of food aid, said Ncube.

He said the economy was projected to recover and grow 3% next year on the expectation that there would be better rains to power agriculture as well as improved foreign exchange inflows and electricity generation.

Power cuts have hit industry and mining, the biggest export earner. Earnings from mining fell to $1.9 billion between January and September this year, from $2.4 billion during the same period in 2018, central bank governor John Mangudya said. (Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by John Stonestreet and Giles Elgood)

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