August 15, 2004

Report: millions need food aid

According to a new vulnerability assessment, Zimbabweans are again in need of food aid, and, by November, nearly five-million will need emergency assistance. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network, known as FEWS Net, paints a grim picture of last season's harvest. FEWS Net estimates that Zimbabwe's total grain harvest last season may have reached up to 1.1 million tons. The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization provides a slightly lower estimate. Zimbabwe's government insists that the country grew more than double that amount. FEWS Net, which is funded by U.S. Agency for International Development, is considered a long-standing and reliable barometer on the issue of food security for southern Africa. The organization says in its latest report that hunger began becoming a serious problem for many communities at the end of July, and that it would escalate in the next four months. It said the supplying of vulnerable communities by international food agencies ended in response to the Zimbabwe government's own announcement that the last harvest was a good one. FEWS Net also stated that in urban areas, although food is available in the shops, rising unemployment and deepening urban poverty mean that many could not afford to buy it. Accordingly, the cost of one staple food, cornmeal, went up by 44 percent between May and June of this year. Zimbabwe's Central Statistics Office last week announced that inflation rates were falling, but this largely referred to non-food items.

In the meantime, the Zimbabwe government has authorized food aid organisations to restart assisting hungry people. Social Welfare Minister Paul Mangwana said that non-governmental organisations had been allowed to resume feeding schemes targeting specific groups but not the general population. "We are giving them (NGOs) permission to give assistance to vulnerable groups such as orphans and those affected by HIV/AIDS. They will also be allowed to chip in when there is an emergency. But as government, we will carry out the general feeding programme. We are already doing this through the public works system. We won't need any donors for that because we have harvested enough food and we have actually recorded a surplus." (VOA News / Zim Online, South Africa)

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