30 April 2002

ZIMBABWE: Mugabe declares drought national disaster

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, faced with national famine, has declared a "state of disaster" across the country, according to official documents issued here on Tuesday, April 30. The proclamation gives the government powers to take extraordinary measures to bring relief to over 600.000 people facing critical food shortages. It also puts the government in a stronger position from which to make appeals to the international donor community for food aid, said aid agency officials. The declaration lasts for three months and can be extended. Like neighbouring countries Malawi and Zambia, Zimbabwe's summer crop of maize, the national staple, has been almost a total write-off after severe drought, the worst in 50 years, during the growing season. The World Food Programme, the United Nations' famine relief agency, is gearing up for a massive operation to feed millions of people in six countries in the sub-continent, 2.6 million of them in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Judith Lewis, the WFP's regional director in east and southern Africa, warned this week that unless food began arriving within the next four months, there would be "an all-out disaster."

The situation has been aggravated in Zimbabwe where nearly all of the country's commercial farmers have been forcibly prevented by authorities from planting crops while government militias and top officials of Mugabe's ruling clique illegally seize farms and equipment. About 21 percent of the normal maize crop of about 1,5 million tons is expected to be reaped this year, according to estimates by agencies monitoring food security. Lewis said last week that Zimbabwe's commercial farmers accounted for the production of about 40 percent of the country's food needs, but their output this year would fall by more than half. Farm union officials forecast the drop will be much greater. International appeals have met with a reluctant response from donors, with the WFP able to raise only 37.000 tons of food out of 117000 tons needed. Only five Western governments - including Britain and the United States - have provided finance for the supplies.

Distribution of WFP relief by Christian Care in the Mugabe stronghold of Muzarabani district in Zimbabwe's northern border area has been suspended because of violence against suspected opposition supporters and the aid agency, reports said here this week. About 23.000 people in the district are on the brink of starvation. Christian Care had written to the local ruling party governor to tell him it was withdrawing its operations unless he was able to guarantee its workers' safety, said the Zimbabwe Independent. The government claims it has begun its own programme to import Z$d95 billion (US $ 16 billion) worth of food, but has given no indication how it will raise the finance. This week the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries, the country's private manufacturing lobby group, accused the government of producing "unreliable statistics" on its planned imports of food. (ZWNews / SAPA)


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