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Maize Shortage in Zimbabwe Raises Starvation Fears - 2001-12-17

There are warnings that Zimbabwe only has sufficient maize (corn) to last until the end of the month and help is urgently needed.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Zimbabwe could face starvation if the country does not import food within the next two weeks. That is the warning in a report by a food relief organization.

The South Africa-based Famine Early Warning System says that stocks of Zimbabwe's staple food, maize, might run out by the end of the month.

The relief organization says there are only 90,000 tons of maize in Zimbabwe and that the country needs 230,000 tons immediately. A U.N. agency, the World food Program, last week appealed urgently to international donors for 60,000 tons of maize to avert famine. Warnings of food shortages have been made several times during the year, but the government has claimed there will be enough domestic production. In the past two months, however, senior government officials have admitted unofficially that imports will be needed. Economists say the crisis in Zimbabwe has arisen because of bad weather during the growing season and because of invasions of commercial farms by militant groups in support of President Robert Mugabe. Violence associated with the invasions has led to more than 70,000 farm workers being forced to flee and made destitute, says a Zimbabwe human rights group, the Human Rights Forum. The group blames the government, which it also accuses of unleashing a campaign of intimidation and harassment of the opposition.

The forum says that in November there were six political murders, brining the total during the year to 41. The Human Rights Forum says there also have been 307 political kidnappings since January, and more than 2,000 cases of torture. It says almost all of those who have been killed have been supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The leader of the MDC, Morgan Tsvangirai, is challenging Mr. Mugabe in presidential elections due to be held in March next year.