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Zimbabwe facing famine 'deaths'

12/07/2003 12:44  - (SA)

Harare - Zimbabwe's main opposition on Saturday warned that there will be "deaths" in the country if the government does not appeal to aid agencies to supply relief food.

Zimbabwe has been in the grip of severe food shortages since last year. The UN's World Food Programme estimates that 5.5 million Zimbabweans will be in need of food aid this year.

"What is required now is government to appeal" for food aid from the WFP, Renson Gasela, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) shadow agriculture minister told a press conference.

"If they don't do that, we are actually going to have deaths," he warned.

The WFP has said it needs the government to make a formal appeal for food aid before donors will commit resources to fund the exercise.

There have been unconfirmed media reports that 43 people, mostly children, have died in the country's second city of Bulawayo due to malnutrition in the first few months of this year.

The WFP estimates that out of the total amount of people who will be in need of food aid, more than one million of them are in urban areas.

"Until they (the government) actually formally request, the donors will not come and supply food," Gasela added.

The MDC official, who is also an opposition legislator, criticised the government for what he said was a callous disregard for the consequences of its delay.

"What other rationale is there other than the desire to hurt your own citizens," he said.

The WFP says that as of May this year it had, together with partner organisations, distributed 346 000 tons of food aid to 4.7 million people.

Aid organisations say a controversial government land reform programme that has seen white-owned commercial farms seized for blacks has contributed to the current food crisis.

MDC's Gasela claimed that new black farmers resettled on formerly white-owned land had not yet produced any food.

He said the bulk of this year's maize harvest was expected to come from growers in the country's traditional communal lands