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January 31, 2014

WFP Struggles to Avert Starvation in Zimbabwe

by Sebastian Mhofu

The U.N. World Food Program said it might have to scale back its efforts to ease food shortages in Zimbabwe as international funding for the exercise has fallen short.  Zimbabwe -- once the breadbasket of southern Africa -- is entering the peak of its so-called "hunger season," which this year is affecting more than 2 million people.

The U.N. agency said the food situation is especially dire in rural areas of four provinces -- Matabeleland North and South, Masvingo and Midlands -- that tend to receive less rain than other provinces.

The WFP is hoping to relieve the shortages by importing food, mainly maize.

Sory Ouane, the head of WFP in Zimbabwe, said that despite contributions from donors such as the United States, Britain, Japan and the U.N.'s Central Emergency Relief Fund, the need for funding remains desperate.

"It is a huge deficit that we are facing in the country, because we had planned for this program $86 million.  So far we have only managed to raise half of this ...  But no aid [contribution] is small at all -- this $4.2 million by the Japanese government is an important relief for us," Ouane noted.

Kudakwashe Bhasikiti, a government minister responsible for Masvingo region, said Zimbabwe should move away from being dependent on donors. "In the future, what we should concentrate on is the development of irrigation to allow each and every community to work on an irrigation scheme where there is constant food supply and also complemented by the growing of small grains," he stated.

It has been a story of food shortages and hunger in Zimbabwe since 2000, when agricultural production began a long-term plunge.  Authorities attribute the trend to drought, while critics say it was President Robert Mugabe's chaotic land reforms.

Since then, maize, Zimbabwe's staple crop, has been in short supply.

Boniface Mandongomani, an unemployed 47-year-old father of four from Sipambi village in Masvingo, is one of those facing starvation. "Hunger is very bad because you can't do anything. You can't buy anything.  If you find little money, you go and buy food for the family. It is very bad. [What is causing hunger in this area?]  No rain.  We receive little rain in this area," he said.

Before President Mugabe's land program, which forced experienced white commercial farmers off their land, irrigation would mitigate the effects of drought in Zimbabwe.  During that time Zimbabwe would export food to other African countries.

But since then most of the irrigation systems have fallen into disrepair.

Until those systems are repaired or replaced, Zimbabwe's "hunger season" will likely remain an annual event.