BULAWAYO, Dec 11 (IPS) - While food is readily available in shops and some political and economic stability is returning in Zimbabwe, vulnerable groups such as children and people living with HIV and AIDS still face a shortage of food.
It is this vulnerable group that has galvanised the international community into action to mobilise humanitarian support in the form of food, medication and water facilities.
This week the Red Cross launched an appeal for $33.2 million to extend an on-going emergency food operation in Zimbabwe to September 2010. The operation is led by the Zimbabwe Red Cross Society (ZRCS) with the support of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). The operation, begun last year, is providing food assistance to over 220,000 beneficiaries across Zimbabwe.
ZRCS Secretary-General Emma Kundishora said that vulnerable people in rural areas will be assisted with direct food aid, while those in the urban areas will receive food vouchers to be redeemed in supermarkets.
"The food vouchers are a pilot project for us and we are currently negotiating with the selected supermarkets where our beneficiaries will be able to buy food items," Kundishora told IPS.
"We are hoping to start the programme early next year as we have already received positive indications of support from our sister societies. It is critical to extend the programme because our beneficiaries do not have food and most of them are unable to produce food anywhere."
In the long term, the ZRCS will provide agricultural inputs like seeds and fertilisers, agricultural training, and increasing community access to safe water.
The U.N. Assistant Secretary General for humanitarian affairs, Catherine Bragg, visiting Zimbabwe at the beginning of December, commended the "great progress" made in easing Zimbabwe's humanitarian crisis but called for continued donor support.
The U.N. has launched the Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP), a planning and resource mobilisation tool used mainly for emergency responses. Under the CAP, the UN has appealed for $378 million in aid for 2010 to cover food and medicines, and bolster health, education, sanitation and access to safe water.
The United Nations Children's Educational Fund (UNICEF) is operating a malnutrition monitoring programme for children across the country. UNICEF Zimbabwe Spokeswoman Tsitsi Singizi, told the Voice of America Studio 7 that conditions for children are most severe in districts such as Mudzi, Mashonaland East province, where food is often in short supply.
UNICEF says a third of the country's children are not getting enough to eat, and as a result, one Zimbabwean child in five suffers stunted growth.
According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), seven percent of under fives suffer from acute malnutrition. The U.N. agency estimates that 1.9 million Zimbabweans will need food assistance between January and March 2010.
"The need to support 'humanitarian plus' or early recovery programmes is highlighted by the deterioration in existing infrastructure and loss of employment opportunities," OCHA said in a statement.
The National Aids Council (NAC) estimates that 761,000 children in Zimbabwe have lost one or both parents to HIV and AIDS. Currently there are more than 1.1 million children under the age of 15 who have been orphaned as a result of the disease.
"The food situation is a cause for concern but food aid is not sustainable," Fambai Ngirande, spokesman for the National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations told IPS, adding that the country's economy is still not on a firm footing.
"We should also be focusing on full economic recovery (to allow) us to consolidate local food security and this rests on government creating a politically-conducive environment that will bring in investors to benefit the economy."