The World Food Program said Thursday that it has instituted strict controls to ensure there is no political interference in its distribution of food aid to Zimbabweans and that it is speeding up distribution in preparation for a pause around March 29 elections.
The U.N. agency said in a statement that it "plans to complete this month's food distributions in Zimbabwe earlier than usual to avoid any overlap with the final run-up to the presidential and parliamentary elections" on March 29. It said it "aims to provide food assistance to all 2.6 million targeted beneficiaries...by the end of this week."
The WFP said it "does not tolerate any political interference in the distribution of its food assistance, which is provided strictly according to need and without regard to political affiliation." It noted that its food distribution channel is "entirely separate" from that of the government's Grain Marketing Board, which has been accused of colluding with ruling party officials to reward loyalists and penalize opposition members.
The WFP said that with the annual maize harvest due in April, it will start scaling down its operations in the country beginning next month, reducing the number receiving aid to some 300,000 of Zimbabwe's most vulnerable groups.
However, a new Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation is to start in May targeting approximately 825,000 people for food assistance over the next two years. But this program can be seasonally expanded to reach another 1 million people, it said.
Spokesman Fambai Ngirande of the National Association of Non-Governmental Organizations told reporter Patience Rusere that there is so much uncertainty in the political environment that it is best for the WFP to wrap up programs soon.