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WFP: Zimbabwe's Food Situation Improves

  • Lisa Schlein

The World Food program says the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe has improved because of the start of the annual harvest. It says Zimbabwe's decision to peg its currency to the U.S. dollar and the South African rand also has made more food available in the markets.

Most people in Zimbabwe live in rural areas. They are dependent on the maize crop for subsistence. So, the World Food Program says the start of the annual harvest season in Zimbabwe always puts more food on the table.

In another bit of good news, WFP says more food is now available in shops in urban areas for people who are able to buy these products with foreign currency.

However, it says people who do not have dollars or other foreign money will continue to struggle to buy food. It says they also will find it difficult to have access to basic services such as health, education, water and electricity.

WFP's public information officer for southern Africa, Richard Lee, says this causes concern. But, in a telephone interview from Johannesburg, Lee tells VOA, this is a good time of year for people who normally go hungry because more food is available in both the fields and in the shops.

"However, we are likely to have a poor harvest this year," he said. "We still do not know exactly how poor it will be. But, it is likely to be poor. And, that means that people will start running short of food, particularly in the worst hit rural areas in the months to come. And, we will, unfortunately, need another large-scale humanitarian operation in Zimbabwe as we go through 2009 and into early 2010."

WFP's large-scale feeding program ran until the end of March. The U.N. agency fed around five million people throughout the country.

Lee says January, February and March are typically the leanest months of the year. He says WFP scales up its food distributions at this time of year to meet the increased needs and closes down most of its operations during the bountiful harvest period.

"We have not ceased all food assistance operations in Zimbabwe," he said. "We are still aiming to reach 600,000 people across the country, who are social safety net programs. And, those beneficiaries are the most chronically vulnerable people affected by HIV/AIDS. They are orphans. They are very vulnerable children in school. So, we are still distributing food. It is just that we are not distributing to as many people as we were back in March."

Lee says WFP's food assistance program was greatly needed during the height of Zimbabwe's cholera epidemic. He notes malnourished people are most at risk of getting sick.

The United Nations reports more than 4,000 people have died from cholera and the total number of cholera cases has risen to more than 95,000.

Lee says the worst of the cholera epidemic is thankfully over. He says WFP provided small amounts of food assistance to cholera centers in March, but none so far in April because most treatment centers are closing down.

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