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World Food Program: 6 Million Zimbabweans Need Food Aid - 2002-05-29

In a report released Thursday, the World Food Program says about six million people in Zimbabwe, almost half the population, are in need of emergency food aid. While a drought is affecting all southern African countries, the food situation in Zimbabwe has been made worse by the government's seizure of the country's commercial farms.

Zimbabwe has had many droughts before, the most recent of which was in 1992. However at that time, the country's financial and political situation was more stable, as was its agricultural sector, and famine was prevented.

But a lot has changed in Zimbabwe in recent years, changes documented in the World Food Program report. A little more than two years ago, with the backing of the government of President Robert Mugabe, thousands of his supporters began invading many of the country's most productive farms, which were owned by whites.

Since the invasions began, part of the government's land reform program - maize production - has declined by more than 75 percent, and the World Food Program said wheat will run out in weeks.

The U.N. food agency has said although drought was primarily responsible for the failure of this year's crops, this was also the first year the country's land reform program was implemented on many large commercial farms. This, the World Food Program said, caused serious disruption of normal farming practices and left large areas fallow, resulting in a steep reduction in production.

Using unusually strong words, the WFP said Zimbabwe's food shortage is the result of continuing and substantial deterioration of the economy, recent climatic factors and the disruption of national food production caused by the land reform program.

The World Food Program has said in order to feed its people between now and the next harvest, Zimbabwe will have to import almost 1.5 million tons of cereals. The agency said Zimbabwe does not have enough foreign currency to import this much food.