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Aid Agencies Able to Provide Only Fraction of Food Needed in Zimbabwe - 2002-08-06

Aid agencies say almost 13 million people face the threat of starvation in southern Africa, as many as six million of them in Zimbabwe. Aid agencies are able to provide only a fraction of the food needed by Zimbabwe's hungry population. Many areas have no feeding programs at all.

In Mwenezi, 130 kilometers north of the South African border, in Zimbabwe's Masvingo province, most school children receive a daily meal provided by the British government.

The children look poor, but are not starving. They receive about one-third of their daily calorie needs from a sweet, highly nutritious porridge. Teachers say school attendance has increased dramatically since the feeding program began.

A private aid agency which organized the feeding program, Christian Aid, says the children come from relatively wealthy rural families, but still are in desperate need of food assistance.

Such food programs operate in only some areas of Zimbabwe. For example, in four districts about an hour's drive north of Mwenezi, in the same province, there are no feeding arrangements of any kind for children or adults. No one is even sure how many children and adults might be on the edge of starvation.

Christian Aid says non-governmental organizations simply do not have either the money or the logistics to extend their school feeding programs in the province. The charity says Zimbabwe's railways provide an unreliable service for delivery of food, all of which is imported. It says road transport increases the cost by $30 (U.S.) a ton.

In Mwenezi, which has a feeding program, the families are mostly supporters of President Robert Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party.

But in other parts of the province, opposition supporters say they are not allowed to buy maize, which has been bought with taxpayers' money and is distributed by the government's grain marketing board. They charge that they are turned away simply because they are suspected opposition supporters.

The government has not responded to the accusations that it has prevented opposition supporters from buying grain.

Zimbabwe laws prohibit any organization other than the government's grain marketing board from buying or selling maize.

The food shortage in Zimbabwe and throughout much of southern Africa is largely the result of drought. Also in Zimbabwe, the government had not stored grain from previous harvests. Aid agencies say the seizure of thousands of recently productive white-owned farms has contributed to Zimbabwe's food shortage.