U.N. pledges more food aid to desperate Zimbabwe

By Cris Chinaka

HARARE, June 28 (Reuters) - The United Nations called on Friday for a massive food relief effort for Zimbabwe, where severe shortages caused by drought and government land seizures threaten millions of people with starvation.

U.N. Under-Secretary General Kenzo Oshima, the world body's top emergency relief coordinator, said President Robert Mugabe's government had agreed to work out a plan under which the world body would mobilise more food assistance for the country.

Aid agencies say four to six million of Zimbabwe's nearly 14 million people need food aid to offset shortages caused by drought and aggravated by Mugabe's plan to seize white-owned commercial farms for black resettlement.

''The situation is very serious...and unless there is massive effort to get in aid, it (the food shortages) will have a very devastating effect,'' Oshima told reporters after a three-day visit to assess the country's food needs.

He did not give details of his talks with the government.

Almost 13 million people in six southern African states -- Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique, Lesotho and Swaziland -- are at risk of famine unless they receive food aid.

Two successive years of poor harvests caused by drought, floods and frost, coupled with economic and political crises, have slashed food availability and caused prices of the staple food maize to skyrocket.

The U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) has said it needs some $400 million from donor governments to tackle the crisis in southern Africa.


Asked whether he agreed with the view of some aid groups and regional analysts that Zimbabwe's food crisis was largely man-made, Oshima said he was not there to discuss politics.

''It is not for me to argue whether there are problems, natural or man-made. My duty is to coordinate humanitarian relief...and the magnitude of the problem affecting Zimbabwe is very serious,'' he said.

''...Our responsibility is not to engage in political talks but to make sure that the people in need are assisted. We let others deal with the political problems,'' Oshima added.

Oshima said the country's needs were about 40 percent of the total food aid requirements for the southern African region.

Analysts say drought and Mugabe's land policies were responsible for a 60 percent fall in the production of Zimbabwe's staple maize food this year.

Mugabe vowed to press ahead with the land programme on Wednesday in his first public comments since the expiry this week of a government deadline ordering nearly 3,000 farmers to stop working their land.

A 45-day countdown for the white farmers to leave their land began on Tuesday, but many vowed to stay put rather than watch vital crops rot in a nation short of food.

Two white farmers have filed suit seeking to block the government order in a test case closely watched by thousands of others also facing eviction.


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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