The Heat Is Online

Zimbabwe Threatened By Famine

Famine agency issues emergency alert

Reuters News Service, Feb. 27, 2003

HARARE, Zimbabwe (Reuters) -- Zimbabwe faces a potential famine and should urgently speed up food imports to avert it, a U.S.-based agency said on Thursday.

The Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWSNET) issued its emergency alert following a poor harvest blamed on drought and President Robert Mugabe's controversial seizure of land from minority whites for redistribution to landless blacks.

"FEWSNET recommends that...the government co-ordinate its use of all five ports in the sub-region to allow timely imports to avert a potential famine," the agency said.

"Indicators point to a dramatic rise in food insecurity... People in more than two-thirds of the districts are likely to be moderately, highly or extremely food insecure in the 2003/04 marketing year starting in April."

The agency said the country's grain harvest from the 2002/03 (Oct/March) cropping season could be as low as 414,100 tones, down 20 percent on the 2001/02 harvest and 77 percent below the recent five-year average.

Once the bread basket of southern Africa, half of Zimbabwe's 14 million people now face food shortages.

Agencies say those hardest-hit by the food shortages include about one million former farm laborers rendered jobless and homeless by the land reforms.

FEWSNET said current maize imports from South Africa and the United States were arriving at a rate of about 70,000 tones per month, less than half the requirements for human consumption of about 150,000 tones per month (MT).

"Given the poor harvest prospects and anticipated low stock levels, Zimbabwe will need to import between 930,000 MT and 1.3 million MT of maize to meet the estimated pre-harvest deficit for 2003/04," it said.

On Thursday Britain donated 5.25 million pounds sterling to help the United Nations World Food Programme's drive to feed some 4.5 million Zimbabweans until the expected launch of a new aid appeal in the middle of the year.

Despite clashes with Mugabe's government mainly over its controversial land reforms, the former colonial power has contributed over 21 million pounds towards the U.N. appeal for Zimbabwe.

Aid agencies say the government's capacity to import food has been sharply hampered by a foreign currency shortage which has also led to erratic fuel supplies in the last four years as the country grapples with its worst economic crisis since independence in 1980.

Mugabe's government denies mismanaging the economy, and argues that the current food shortages are due solely to drought.

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