Zimbabwe: Reality of food shortages inconsistent with official figures

JOHANNESBURG, 6 February (IRIN) - Clarity is being sought over a discrepancy between Zimbabwe's official tally of cereal food stocks - which indicated a national surplus - and the reality of on-going shortages on the ground, humanitarian sources told IRIN.
In its December report the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVAC) - a consortium of government, NGOs and UN agencies - noted inconsistencies between tallies of food sourced by the state grain monopoly, the Grain Marketing Board (GMB), and what had been distributed at community level.

The ZimVAC report said: "Distribution of GMB imports at the community level is inconsistent with reported imports at the national level. For the time period 1 April 2002 to 1 December 2002, total maize available - from domestic availability, GMB imports, and food aid - was 1.3 million mt. The [national consumption] requirement for this time period was 1.1 million mt, indicating a surplus of 200,000 mt at the national level."

A local newspaper, The Financial Gazette, picked up on this note in the report and wrote that "at least 200,000 mt of maize earmarked for starving Zimbabweans is unaccounted for". However, the newspaper did not clarify that the tallies related to the total national consumption requirements - not just emergency food aid needs for people facing hunger.

A ZimVAC member explained that "the discrepancy is that when there should be a surplus there is actually a deficit ... the reality on the ground and the figures don't tally".

A humanitarian worker told IRIN that inconsistencies were unearthed when ZimVAC was "doing their field work, they came up with the result that only 1.1 million mt had reached the people, which lead them to conclude there was inconsistencies on the ground".

While there have been reports of incidents of diversion of GMB food stocks by ranking ruling party officials and so-called war veterans, this was unlikely to account for 200,000 mt - a significant amount given that Zimbabwe's total emergency food aid requirement through to March is estimated to be 345,000 mt.

Another humanitarian source suggested that the official figures - of total food stocks available through imports and in-country stock - could have been incorrect in the first instance, resulting in the discrepancy when the December assessment was undertaken. But this was dismissed as unlikely by the ZimVAC member.

It was also unclear whether backlogs in distribution could be to blame for the discrepancy.

Either way, ZimVAC is seeking clarity on the issue. The committee stated that "this discrepancy between reported import levels at the national level and community availability of cereals warrants further investigation".

Aid agencies estimate that some 7.1 million Zimbabweans require emergency food aid through March this year.


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