By Stella Mapenzauswa
HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's government has finally appealed for food aid to stave off looming starvation among its people, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said on Thursday.
Zimbabwe ranks as the worst-hit among six southern African countries that experienced severe food shortages in 2002-03 due to a combination of drought, floods and economic mismanagement.
WFP representative in Zimbabwe Kevin Farrell told reporters Mugabe's government had indicated Zimbabwe faced a maize deficit of 711,000 tonnes after harvesting about 900,000 to augment opening stocks of 284,000 tonnes held by the state Grain Marketing Board (GMB).
The appeal comes about a fortnight after WFP urged the government to request donor aid for some 5.5 million people seen needing emergency food in the current marketing season.
"We now have the appeal in hand and certainly it has been a bit of a while in coming...We are trying to resource 350,000 tonnes on top of the carry-over that we have of a little over 100,000 tonnes," Farrell said.
The remaining shortfall was to be partly covered by bilateral donations from Britain and the U.S.
"In the meantime we are faced with this immediate problem looming at the end of August, beginning of September, the real risk that we're going to run out of supplies.
"We are appealing to donors for pledges to be made soon so that we can minimise that pipeline break. As the year progresses clearly the overall food security... both in the rural and urban areas is getting more difficult," Farrell said.
WFP said in June it would take at least three months after a donor pledge was made for food to arrive in the country.
A cause for concern was that the GMB had not indicated whether it had any plans to independently import significant quantities of food in the coming few months.
"The general situation is more difficult than last year because of this unknown quantity, which is how much is going to be able to come in commercially. It's going to be difficult to fill that deficit without some involvement of the private sector," Farrell said.
The GMB has a monopoly on all imports and exports of maize and wheat, but Farrell said Mugabe's government had indicated it would now allow some form of private sector participation in maize imports to ease shortages.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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