Tearfund steps up relief aid to Zimbabwe

Christian relief and development agency Tearfund is stepping up its aid effort to Southern Africa this week with the start of emergency food distributions in Zimbabwe, one of six countries in the Southern African region currently on the brink of famine.
Tearfund partners in the region are distributing maize, Zimbabwe's staple crop, to more than 30,000 of the most vulnerable people in the country's eight provinces, following an extensive assessment of needs last month.

Once known as the 'bread basket' of Southern Africa with an agricultural surplus to export to its neighbours, Zimbabwe is currently in the throes of a devastating food crisis, struggling to feed its population. The World Food Programme estimates that half of Zimbabwe's 12 million population are on the brink of famine.

"The situation here is desperate," said a representative from Tearfund's partner in Zimbabwe. "The harvest failed for most families and there is precious little food left. Some families have resorted to eating grass seed to avoid starvation," he added.

Current estimates expect this season's meagre harvest to be exhausted by the end of July. There is a 75 per cent deficit in the amount food needed to feed Zimbabwe's population between now and the next harvest, not due until March/April 2003.

Estimates suggest that Zimbabwe needs 5,000 tonnes of maize per day to prevent famine and loss of life in the coming months, equivalent to one 30 tonne lorry every 8.5 minutes.

Paul Lapworth, Tearfund's desk officer for the affected region, says: "My fear is that the international community's aid effort won't be big enough or fast enough. An urgent and generous response is needed. The stakes are too high for anything less."

The current food crisis has been caused by a severe and prolonged drought between January and March this year, the main cereal growing season, and extensive disruption of domestic agricultural production, culminating in this week's ban on commercial farming.

Famine looms for almost 13 million people in six Southern African countries - Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho and Swaziland - a figure equivalent to almost a quarter of Britain's population.

Earlier this month, Tearfund launched an emergency appeal for the Southern Africa region. Donations to the Tearfund Southern Africa Crisis Appeal can be made be credit card by calling 0845 355 8355 (local rate calls) - or sending a cheque to Tearfund Southern Africa Crisis Appeal, Freepost, Teddington, Middlesex, TW11 8BR. Cheques should be payable to Tearfund and earmarked for "Southern Africa Crisis".


For further information, photographs or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Abby King, Media Officer: 020 8943 7901 or 07767 473516 or abby.king@tearfund.org

Keith Ewing, Media Manager: 020 8943 7779 or 07710 573749 or keith.ewing@tearfund.org

Note to editors

Interviewees available: Tearfund Southern Africa Desk Officer, Paul Lapworth and Media Manager, Keith Ewing, have just returned from the region (Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe) and are available for interview. Interviews by ISDN available.

Tearfund is one of the UK's leading relief and development agencies, working in partnership with Christian agencies and churches around the world to tackle the causes and effects of poverty. For further information on Tearfund's work, visit www.tearfund.org