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US Considers More Direct Aid To Needy In Zimbabwe - 2002-11-05

the US government says it’s reviewing its policy on Zimbabwe to include what officials say would be a more direct delivery of food aid to the rural population.

The US government says it’s considering the use of what it calls “intrusive and interventionist measures” to deliver food to the rural population in Zimbabwe. The announcement was made by Deputy Secretary of State for Africa Mark Bellamy, who cited reports of worsening food shortages in Zimbabwe. He said the measures are part of a comprehensive review of the administration’s policy on Zimbabwe. The US official refused to give details - but said the United States would act if there were the prospect that more people will starve to death in the coming months. He was speaking to a visiting delegation of traditional leaders from Matebeleland in Washington Friday. Mr. Bellamy said authorities in Zimbabwe is deliberately withholding food from the population especially those considered as supporters of the opposition.

He says, "We are looking at measures we have in place and we are looking at other responses to the humanitarian crises. The people of Zimbabwe, the population of Zimbabwe, is a suffering population. The government of Zimbabwe has paid far little attention to the crises and in many respects we are deeply disturbed by many credible reports we’ve received of the politicization of food aid, the denial of food assistance to opponents of the government. We are deeply concerned by the course of events in Zimbabwe."

Members of the delegation agreed. They said food donated by international agencies is diverted by officials, and that threatens a large section of the population, mostly women and children in Matebeleland, a stronghold of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC. The leader of the delegation and a veteran of Zimbabwe’s war of independence - who asked not to be identified - said the situation is grim.

He says, "It is extremely bad. There are people who have died as a result of not receiving food. There are children who’ve died as a result of not receiving food. So this food situation in Matebele is extremely bad. Most of the particularly in the remote parts of the country like extreme end of Cholocho, extreme end of Kukai, extreme end of Lukpani, extreme end of Binga, people have resorted to going to the bush to look for wild fruits, which wild fruits some of them have caused deaths a result. And schools, some schools have closed down because children are too weak to go to school."

Zimbabwean embassy spokesman Sign Chabvonga disagrees. He says the government is making the best out of a very bad situation.

"There is shortage of food for the whole country," he says. "It’s all the people of Zimbabwe that are going to starve; it’s not particularly the Ndebele people who are targeted. It is not the government policy to cause starvation. Starvation was caused by drought, which everybody understands. But because of the political differences in Zimbabwe right now, people tend to say this thing is being politicized. Instead it was the MDC which was politicizing the food distribution process."

He says all Zimbabweans should join the government in finding solutions to the current crises rather than criticizing its policies.

Zimbabwe – with a population of 13 million - has been facing food crises since the government implemented a controversial land redistribution policy. The government seizes land from white farmers for distribution to landless blacks. President Robert Mugabe has vowed to continue the program, saying he is attempting to correct past colonial injustices.