Hunger stalks Zimbabweans

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THE government’s desperate efforts to feed millions of Zimbabweans who are staring starvation are encountering significant challenges, after the World Food Programme (WFP) warned yesterday that it could reduce its assistance if it fails to get US$100 million immediately, the Daily News reports.

This comes as the government is battling massive shortages of grain, which has hit hard the supplies of the staple maize meal across the country.

It also comes as relief agencies have forecast another poor harvest this season, with more than half of the country food insecure — including those in urban areas.

WFP senior official, Valerie Guarnieri — who has been in the country for a week to assess Zimbabwe’s food needs — said in Harare yesterday that her organisation had not yet secured the US$212 million needed for food assistance in the country for the next

“Our overall requirement for the next six months is US$212 million. Within that amount, we have a shortfall of US$103 million which we need for us to scale up and continue our emergency food assistance.

“If we don’t get the money, we are going to be forced to scale down our food assistance from the 3,5 million people we are supporting in rural areas, to a lesser number, and the same goes for the urban population.

“My other concern is that we may not be able to maintain our resilience programmes and that will be unfortunate because what we want to achieve through these programmes is to enable food insecure households to have income-generating projects so that they can be self-dependent in the long run,” Guarnieri said.

She also revealed that the WFP was targeting importing 200 000 metric tonnes of food to support the country for the next six months.

“This is a lot of work which requires funds to buy the 200 000 metric tonnes of food and to fund the trucks that will move the food through different corridors into the country.

“This is something that needs to be working like a very well-oiled machine if we are going to meet that demand,” she said further.

Guarnieri added that assessments had indicated that the country’s food crisis was deepening, amid its economic challenges and the climate change-induced dry spells and floods.

“Right now the food and agricultural organisation (FAO), in conjuction with WFP is conducting a crop and food security assessment mission to see how the country is going to perform in the current cropping season.

“Ideally, we were hoping that the harvest in April would begin to alleviate the food shortages in the country, but preliminary information indicates that due to the late arrival of the rains, crops wilted in the fields and farmers didn’t have enough additional seeds to plant.

“So we are not expecting good news about the upcoming harvest,” Guarnieri said.

“When I visited rural communities, what I found is that the people have run out of food from their last harvest and they don’t have the money to buy maize meal from the stores.

“In urban areas … in cases where people have the money there are shortages of mealie meal.
“In other cases the prices are too high and they can’t access it. There is an availability and access issue when it comes to maize meal and other basic commodities.” Guarnieri added, saying further that these were worsening the food crisis for both the rural and urban population.

Apart from implementing resilience programmes in rural areas, the WFP had also started replicating these programmes in urban areas, with Epworth near Harare being among the first.

“In Epworth people have been receiving an equivalent of US$9 per person in a household and people have been able to buy items like soap, mealie meal, cooking oil and sugar.
“As a long-term solution, there is an effort underway to promote mushroom production to encourage people not to be dependent on food aid,” she said.

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