Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe declines food aid despite reports of worsening famine

Harare (dpa) - Zimbabwe Friday continued to block international efforts to distribute food aid as a United States-backed famine monitoring agency warned that despite some improvements, many citizens were still facing food shortages.

Social Welfare Minister Paul Mangwana was quoted by the state-controlled daily Herald newspaper as saying that the government had taken over the general distribution of food.

Earlier this week the Harare-based Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS-NET) reported that although there had been signs of improved food supplies, many Zimbabweans continue to face conditions of extreme food insecurity.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe shocked aid agencies in May when he announced a record harvest of 2.4 million tonnes of grain, and refused to allow the World Food Programme (WFP), the United Nations' famine relief arm, to continue distributing food.

Mugabe has consistently denied numerous independent surveys that indicates the country is heading for its third successive year of famine, following a widespread seizure of white-owned farms that analysts say has destroyed the country's once-thriving agricultural industry.

Critics, including outspoken Roman Catholic leader Pius Ncube, the archbishop of Bulawayo, accuse Mugabe of planning to deliberately withhold food from areas dominated by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, in order to force the populace to vote for the ruling ZANU(PF) party in parliamentary elections due to be held in March of next year.

The Herald quoted Mangwana as saying that no-one would starve, as the government was distributing food to needy areas.

U.N. staff on the ground, speaking unofficially, have said that the WFP has 50,000 tonnes of food stored in warehouses in the country but has been prohibited from distributing it. dpa jr ch mga

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