Zimbabwe government will not appeal for food aid: report

Harare (dpa) - The Zimbabwe government says it will not make a formal appeal to the United Nations for food aid this year, a newspaper reported Tuesday, despite shortages facing as many as four million of the country's 12 million people.

A senior official in the social welfare ministry told the state-controlled Herald that Zimbabwe would however welcome aid to help cover the deficit of 1.8 million tonnes of maize, which is almost the country's total annual requirement.

''I do not think we will go that route (of a formal appeal to the U.N.),'' Lancaster Museka told the paper.

''The government has indicated that about 1.8 million tonnes of maize are needed to feed the people countrywide. So based on that figure, any donor organisations that are willing to assist can come in with their assistance,'' he added.

Agencies like the U.N.'s World Food Programme (WFP) can only request international donor assistance for a country if its government makes a formal request for food aid.

Zimbabwe has faced several years of poor harvests. The government blames them on drought, but aid groups partly blame the government's controversial land reform programme launched five years ago for reducing agricultural production.

Before the government embarked on a programme of white-owned land seizures in 2000 Zimbabwe was known as the ''grain basket'' of southern Africa.

Museka told the Herald that only 2.4 million Zimbabweans are currently in need of food aid, and that the government is currently importing maize from South Africa.

The WFP says as many as four million people could need food aid by next March.

The massive food imports come at a time when Zimbabwe's foreign currency reserves are already tightly-stretched, resulting in critical fuel and power shortages. dpa rt pmc


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