9 July 2003 19:36
The United Nations (UN) warned on Wednesday that famine risks were increasing because of political and bureaucratic delays by the Zimbabwe government in appealing for emergency food aid.
A humanitarian situation report by UN agencies in Zimbabwe said current stocks of foreign donated food will run out in August when tens of thousands of Zimbabweans are expected to need food aid. It said more than 5-million people will need emergency aid before next year's harvests.
The government had promised to release in early May its forecasts on local food production this year, enabling donors to consider a formal appeal for help and assess the country's food aid needs.
No appeal for aid, which must be accompanied by the local crop forecasts, has been received, the UN report said.
"Several major donors have made it clear they require such an appeal before committing resources to fund food aid," it said.
The UN said it takes at least three months from the time of a donor pledge until food aid is delivered. Because of the lag, UN officials said they feared aid would not be available for those facing starvation in September and the following few months.
Two months after it was expected to release them, the government has given no reasons for not announcing its official crop forecasts or submitting a formal appeal for aid.
Donor agencies have blamed divisions within the government over making public crop forecasts that might cast doubts on the success of President Robert Mugabe's land reform programme that saw thousands of white-owned commercial farms confiscated and handed over to resettled black peasant farmers in the past three years.
Zimbabwe once helped feed much of southern Africa. Food production, however, has been wrecked by erratic rains and the state's often violent seizure of most commercial farms.
Many large farms that were given to ruling party supporters are lying fallow. Others have been carved into small subsistence plots occupied by families without access to fertiliser, tractors and other equipment.
The UN report said its food agency, the World Food Programmme (WFP), remained "extremely concerned about the lack of food security and the very limited supply of food in Zimbabwe in the coming year".
Last month, the WFP said almost half of all Zimbabweans will need food aid at least until next year's harvest in April to avoid starvation.
Crop assessments by the WFP and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation showed Zimbabwe will have to import more than half of its staple food during the next nine months.
Their assessments said Zimbabwe will need to import an estimated 1,27-million metric tons of cereals – maize, the staple, and wheat -- to feed 5,5-million people, or 47% of the population.
Once a formal appeal is made, international aid was likely to provide just under half the imports, leaving the government to buy the rest.
The southern African nation is facing its worst economic and political crisis since independence in 1980. Mass famine was avoided this year only by foreign humanitarian aid.
An estimated 70% of Zimbabweans are unemployed and inflation has soared to an official rate of more than 300%.
Farm seizures and political violence since 2000 have disrupted production of tobacco, the main hard currency earner, and slashed hard currency earnings from mining, industry and tourism, leading to acute shortages of food, gasoline and essential imports. - Sapa-AP
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