United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, traveling through the drought-stricken region of southern Africa, has called on the government of Zimbabwe to institute a more equitable and sustainable land reform program that would benefit the landless poor.
Secretary-General Annan says there can be no lasting solution to the food crisis in Zimbabwe unless the government phases in a fully-funded land reform program that gives adequate support to new small farmers. He says it should also make sure that displaced agricultural workers and commercial farmers are compensated for their loss of land and jobs.
The secretary-general's statement comes amid a rising chorus of criticism about Zimbabwe's often violent seizure of land from white farmers, with much of it turned over to former soldiers or political cronies of President Robert Mugabe.
U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard says the international community generally agrees that Zimbabwe's land reform policy has helped turn the country from a food surplus nation into a food deficit nation. "It's probably pretty widely acknowledged that the land reform crisis has had an impact on food production in Zimbabwe," said Mr. Eckhard, "therefore, in a time of food crisis triggered by drought and other factors, yes, it has aggravated the crisis."
Major donors of food aid have demanded some assurance that the Mugabe government is ready to adjust its policies to accommodate the emergency.
Nearly half of the 13 million people facing starvation in southern Africa live in Zimbabwe. Relief agencies worry that donors will not be as generous as they could be unless they see significant change in the government's attitude.