12 July 2002

UN warns Mugabe not to meddle with food aid

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned the Zimbabwean government yesterday that it would suspend food relief in response to any political interference with its activities in the country. James Morris, the head of the WFP, said he had told Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's president, this week that the UN agency "would be out of the country in a second" if it encountered difficulties in delivering food to starving people. Non-governmental organisations claim that Mr Mugabe's ruling Zanu PF is manipulating food supplies in favour of its supporters and to the disadvantage of supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). State-sponsored intimidation of the MDC and commercial farmers helped Mr Mugabe secure a disputed election victory in March. But the Rome-based WFP insists political interference in non-governmental administered emergency relief operations is not widespread.

The effects of a region-wide drought have been worsened in Zimbabwe by misguided macroeconomic policies and a controversial land reform programme to resettle landless black people. Disruptions to farming operations have led to reduced crop planting by commercial farmers and the need to import about 1.5m tonnes of maize. Almost half of the 13m people across the southern African region facing severe food shortages are in Zimbabwe. The WFP hopes to feed 4m Zimbabweans by the end of the year. Currently, its food relief is reaching about 550,000 people. The UN said this week people were turning to theft, prostitution and child labour to survive the crisis, but few people have yet died from starvation in the country. "Zimbabwe has the capacity to be a very successful food producing country. The resources are there. My concern is to get the government to understand that if there is not structural realignment from the leadership this problem [the food shortages] will not be solved," said Mr Morris. (ZWNews / Financial Times, UK)

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