Zimbabwe facing critical food shortages

News and Press Release
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By Chris Simkins

Washington, 10 November 2008 - Zimbabwe's Reserve Bank has repaid more than $7 million to an international aid organization that fights AIDS and other communicable diseases following the organization's complaints that the money was misused. The repayment comes as other international aid organizations appeal for more money to help avert another humanitaritan crisis in Zimbabwe. VOA's Chris Simkins reports millions of hungry Zimbabweans are facing massive food shortages in the coming months.

Aid organizations say the continuing political stalemate between Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is preventing the government from focusing attention on the growing humanitarian crisis. The two men are deadlocked over implementing a power-sharing deal signed last September. Meantime, aid groups say millions are starving.

This is one of the hardest hit ares, Musita Village, in Midlands Province. United Nations aid worker Richard Lee provided VOA with recent video of aid workers handing out cornmeal, vegetable oil and other food stocks. He says the situation is dire.

"People I was talking to are used to eating one meal a day, people are exchanging their goats, their precious goats, for five kilograms of maize and other people are eating wild food," Lee said. "And they are all saying they desperately need food aid to get themselves through."

The Red Cross and the UN World Food Program have stepped up the distribution of emergency food supplies in the country after months of being blocked by the government. Now relief agencies estimate half the country's population, some five million people, will need food aid by the end of the year.

The shortages has grown worse following two consecutive years of poor harvests and floods in Zimbabwe. Food costs have significantly increased and there are also shortages of other basic supplies.

Jennifer Parmelle is a spokeswoman with the United Nations World Food Program. She tells VOA having to feed more people means the agency will need more money to maintain current levels of food distributions, "Unless we get $140 million more for Zimbabwe well before January we are going to run out of food," she said. "And that means cutting rations and cutting people off the ration rolls. Those are steps we absolutely never want to have to take."

Despite US sanctions on Zimbabwe, the U.S. Agency for International Development is providing food aid. But USAID warns that without an increase in food imports Zimbabwe could run out of cereals, corn and other key grains by the end of the year. Meanwhile, western nations want Zimbabwe's new government in place before lifting sanctions -- a move that would pave the way for more aid to be delivered to the people of Zimbabwe.