Economic woes and lack of rain set to worsen humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe

IHA/753, AFR/550
NEW YORK, 28 January (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) - Worsening conditions in Zimbabwe have led the World Food Programme (WFP) to step up its food distribution there this month. Improvements in WFP's capacity and pipeline have allowed the agency to deliver as much as 47,000 metric tons of food in January, more than double the previous highest distribution level, but ongoing shortages of fuel, fertilizer and rain, together with setbacks in the health sector, imply that needs will continue to grow.

The United Nations is receiving an increasing number of reports of hunger-related deaths, and of children and adults fainting from hunger. Economic woes, especially the severe foreign currency shortage, and the ongoing shortages of fuel and fertilizer compound the shortages of food. And the Southern African Development Community's Drought Monitoring Centre in Harare's warning statement for the 2002/2003 rainy season suggests the situation could deteriorate further. "The poor rainfall trend, especially [in the south] is forecasted to continue throughout the remainder of the 2002/2003 rainfall season, which poses a serious cause of concern." With forecasted rainfall shortages in parts of Zimbabwe, South Africa, Lesotho and Mozambique considered critical, the Drought Monitoring Community has called for contingency plans to be made.

The foreign currency shortages leave the Government unable to purchase vaccines, and fuel shortages make it difficult to distribute them at the sub-district level. So severe are the problems that the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare foresee a possible collapse of Expanded Programme of Immunization (EPI) services in the next three months, if no interventions are undertaken immediately.

In response, UNICEF is looking for ways to supply vaccines rapidly from other UNICEF offices in the region with surplus stock. Ten thousand vials of DPT vaccines have already been air freighted from Uganda as an emergency measure. The WHO and UNICEF have also agreed to share costs for an experienced logistician to be based with the Zimbabwean Ministry of Health.

United Nations humanitarian agencies are urgently seeking funding from the international community that would allow for the purchase of further resources. Further complicating problems in the health sector, reports of malaria increased by 19 per cent in the last week of December, while it was difficult to transport medicines from the national to regional level.

Though the overall level of funding for the United Nations' Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeal for the Humanitarian Crisis in Southern Africa stands at 58 per cent, contributions for programmes outside the food sector have been poor. As of 24 January, just 12 per cent of the funding required for health sector interventions had been received. Interventions for water and sanitation have received only 13 per cent of the funding that agencies had requested in July.

For further information, please contact Stephanie Bunker at 1-212-963-8740, or Brian Grogan at 1-212-963-1143.


UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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