The World Food Program says it plans to provide food for more than a quarter of Zimbabwe's population this year. But the agency says a humanitarian crisis has been averted in other parts of southern Africa, at least for the time being.
The World Food Program says dry weather combined with a dramatically reduced amount of land under cultivation has led to a worsening food crisis in Zimbabwe. The coordinator of WFP programs in southern Africa, Judith Lewis said people in Zimbabwe will continue to face food shortages in the coming year, and the situation could get worse.
"We are looking at certainly over half of the population who are vulnerable and need some type of assistance," said Ms. Lewis. "And then when you look at what is available in the market, people that still have assets [or] money go to the market and there is nothing to buy, there is no bread, oil, sugar, salt - just very hard to find. And so, what our fear is that over the next coming months if something radical is not done in that country, we are going to look at potentially a whole country of hungry people."
Zimbabwe used to be the breadbasket of southern Africa. The WFP said that the current food crisis was caused by drought and the re-distribution of white-owned commercial farms to inexperienced blacks, who have left many fields fallow. The result has been a huge drop in agricultural production.
The World Food Program said the severe food crisis in southern Africa has eased somewhat in five other countries. Officials who have just returned from a mission in the area say they have managed to avert serious famine, thanks to the quick reaction of humanitarian workers and aid agencies.
But the U.N. agency has estimated more than 15 million people are in need of food assistance across the region.
The World Food Program estimates that it will have delivered nearly 1.5 million tons of emergency food aid by March to hungry people in southern Africa. It says millions of the most vulnerable people in the worst affected areas have benefited from international food aid.
WFP officials also expressed serious concern about the AIDS pandemic in these countries. They say it is causing the death of thousands of productive people, mainly women, who are the pillars of the family and community. The U.N. agency called for a global effort to fight AIDS, which it says is wrecking the livelihoods of millions in southern Africa, while making future famines more likely.