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Floods Wash Away Zimbabwe's Scarce Crops

In the past two weeks torrential rains have broken a two-year drought in Zimbabwe. While the rains are welcome for livestock, winter crop irrigation and human use, farmers say it is a question of too much too late for most of Zimbabwe's crops. The rains came at the end of a second consecutive rainy season with little rain and what crops had been planted had long withered. President Robert Mugabe has declared a state of disaster in Matabeleland South, an area particularly hard hit by the drought.

A spokesperson for the Commercial Farmers Union says the rains will help some of the late crop and fill up the dams for winter wheat, but Zimbabwe will still have a huge shortfall of the staple maize.

A spokesperson for the farmers' union, who asked to remain anonymous, said that the situation is worsened by the fact that nothing was planted on vast areas of land that were taken from white farmers during the land reform program. He was referring to President Mugabe's chaotic and sometimes violent program to redistribute farmland. Under it, a majority of the country's white farmers lost their land to make way for landless blacks. Because of a lack of resources and experience, most of those now on the lands have so far been unable to farm them.

Zimbabwe, along with five other southern African countries, has been suffering food shortages for months. Observers acknowledge that two years with little rain have greatly added to food shortages in Zimbabwe, but they say that Mr. Mugabe's land reform exercise created the current crisis. More than seven million of the country's 11.5 million people need food aid.

The World Food Program and the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization are currently assessing this year's harvest and only expect to have a clear picture of the situation in about a month. The World Food Program's spokesman in Zimbabwe, Luis Clemens, said the current rains are a mixed blessing.

"The situation in Zimbabwe is one perversely of first too little rain followed by too much rain, in some areas crops have been washed away [and] vegetable gardens along river banks have been washed away," he said.

Mr. Clemens said the World Food Program was hoping to wind up its humanitarian assistance in Zimbabwe after this year's harvest. But he said because of the government's inability to meet the expected food shortfall, the food agency will remain in Zimbabwe for a while yet.