Zimbabwe: Food crisis spells disaster

JOHANNESBURG, 29 September 2008 (IRIN) - Zimbabwe is facing a "disastrous" food crisis if a new power-sharing government is not formed quickly, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and prime minister-designate, Morgan Tsvangirai, has said.

"We need to respond to this crisis with utmost urgency. It is therefore imperative that a government be formed in the next few days and begins to implement plans to insure that our people have food and do not die of starvation," Tsvangirai told reporters.

President Robert Mugabe, Tsvangirai, and the leader of a smaller MDC faction, Arthur Mutambara, signed a power-sharing deal on 15 September 2008, but the deal, brokered by former South African president Thabo Mbeki, deadlocked soon after, as the parties could not agree on the allocation of ministerial posts.

Mugabe subsequently left the country to attend the UN annual General Assembly meeting in New York and returned to the capital, Harare, on 29 September.

Mugabe and Tsvangirai have both stated recently that they expect the unity government to be established soon. "We discussed the ministries before I left [for the UN]. Only four remain [to be decided], but there is no deadlock," Mugabe was reported as saying on his return. "We will be setting up government this week, towards the end of the week."

Tsvangirai made his appeal after a recent meeting with farmers, food security analysts and other interested parties. "I am sad to report that my preliminary findings in this exercise show a state of emergency in the area of food security, with disastrous consequences if we take too long to attend to the crisis."

MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa told IRIN the absence of a power-sharing government meant that there were "no mechanisms or strategies" to address the food crisis.

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), the country's biggest union federation and largely responsible for the formation of the MDC, said the power-sharing deal was "unacceptable".

In a statement the union federation said: "The agreement is far cry from the ZCTU expectations, as it is an outcome of a flawed process. From a labour point of view, the agreement is not acceptable. Any country must be governed by a democratically elected government, and the current arrangement means that the people would be led by an unelected government for the next five years," it said.

"The ZCTU maintains its earlier position on the need for a neutral transitional authority as the panacea to the current electoral dispute. However, if the present arrangement is to continue, it must be a transitional arrangement that will lead to a free and fair election under a new, people-driven constitution."

Earlier this year the UN estimated that more than five million people, out of a population of 12 million, would require food assistance in the first quarter of 2009. November is the planting period in the main agricultural season, but cash shortages, a paucity of agricultural inputs, an unfavourable long-range weather forecast and renewed disruptions on farms are likely produce another poor harvest.