UN appeals for $119m to avert starvation

HARARE - United Nations food agency World Food Programme (WFP) yesterday launched an appeal for over $100 million to provide emergency relief food for millions of Zimbabweans threatened with starvation over the next seven months.

The agency needs $119 million to feed 1,6 million people until the next main harvest in March 2013.

The UN agency said the number of people needing food aid to survive in Zimbabwe has increased significantly due to erratic rains, poor agricultural practices and ongoing economic problems.

“The WFP requires approximately $119 million to complete its operations in Zimbabwe until the end of March 2013, though almost three-quarters of the funding has not yet been accounted for,” the agency said.

The southern African state’s economy hit a tailspin after 45 percent of 1 689 786 hectares of maize planted area was lost to a mid-season drought.

The late rains saw crops in several parts of the country wilting under severe moisture stress.

The Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (Zimvac) — a grouping of government and UN relief agencies — said the number of people facing food shortages has increased because 33 percent of the cereal harvest was written off.

“Late and erratic rains, poor agricultural practices, constrained access to inputs, and a reduction in planted area have all contributed to reducing the national cereal harvest by 33 percent this year,” WFP said in a news release through Zimvac.

Zimvac estimates that over 1,6 million people will be food insecure between January and March 2013, the peak hunger months in Zimbabwe.

This is a 60 percent increase from the one million people who needed assistance at the beginning of this year.

The UN agency said the past several weeks have provided signs of “growing distress” across the country with high food prices, empty silos and granaries, and a reduced cereal harvest, aggravating the country’s food security outlook.

It further noted that “a lack of diversified livelihoods and the rising cost of living were combining to create a perfect storm of income and food insecurity.”

The UN WFP announced a cocktail of measures to scale up its assistance to reach 1,6 million people affected by the late rains and economic challenges.

In response to the deteriorating food situation, the UN agency announced it was “scaling up operations in conjunction with the government and other stakeholders to provide a combination of food distribution and cash transfers to those in need.”

WFP’s appeal will be targeting primarily the most vulnerable households, such as families affected by HIV/Aids and those headed by women, children and the elderly.

WFP regional director for southern Africa, Mustapha Darboe met Agriculture minister Joseph Made last week and said the ability of Zimbabwe to import large quantities of additional food was of paramount importance and that the government must also cooperate with the private sector if there was to be enough food to stave off a crisis.

Made said they agreed to give priority to WFP in relation to grain imports from Zambia, a former recipient of food from Zimbabwe.

Analysts say drought, a stagnant economy and a land reform programme that has destroyed commercial farming, have pushed millions of Zimbabweans to the brink of starvation.

A country that used to export food to hungry neighbours will need to import a staggering 500 000 tonnes of food from Zambia, either commercially or through food aid, just to get through the year.

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