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Zimbabwe Farm Seizures May Be Jeopardizing Drought Aid - 2002-07-18

Donors pledging emergency drought assistance to southern Africa Thursday have expressed concern about what they consider misguided government policies in the region, that may be worsening the crisis. U.N. officials admit this concern could limit the amount of aid the major donors are willing to give.

There are six countries in crisis in southern Africa: Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. It is Zimbabwe that is causing donors most concern. Of the 13 million people facing starvation in the region, about six million of them live in Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, the government there is engaged in a very controversial land-reform program, which involves seizing and breaking up the farms of white farmers.

Donors and U.N. officials agree the land redistribution policy has made a bad situation worse in Zimbabwe. Kenzo Oshima of Japan, the U.N. coordinator for emergency relief, notes that in 1992, during one of the worst food crises to hit the region, Zimbabwe was still a food-surplus country. Today, Zimbabwe is a food-deficit country.

"We have noted that there are a number of policy issues affecting the crisis and compounding the crisis," he said. "The fast-track land resettlement program has seriously affected one of the most productive sectors, and is a leading cause of the decline of the economy and a factor that is contributing to the crisis."

U.N. officials say Zimbabwe has other policy flaws, notably in the private sector. The government is said to have a virtual monopoly in the marketing and distribution areas.

A Zimbabwean representative told the gathering of donors that the government is trying to make some policy adjustments. But apparently not in the land program. He explained Zimbabwe believes measures to meet drought situations in the longer-term hinge on giving the land back to the people.

But it is the present crisis and the possibility that donors will hold back on aid that commands the attention of relief workers. Mr. Oshima says some major donor governments seem to be treading carefully and keep coming back to the so-called issues of governance.

"The extent to which the governance-related problems influence a donor decision to provide emergency assistance, I do not know. But I think the process of dialogue has started, including in Zimbabwe," he said.

The United Nations has appealed for more than $600 million in emergency aid for southern Africa. This would be used primarily for food shipments. But some of the funds would go toward propping up nutrition, health, water, education and child protection services.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has named James Morris, the director of the World Food Programme, as his special envoy for the humanitarian situation in southern Africa. Mr. Morris will work with African governments to promote a better response to the food emergency. He is also expected to keep in touch with the donors to ensure the aid is used efficiently and going to those most in need.