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Zimbabwe Tightens Restrictions on Food Aid Distribution

The Zimbabwe government has tightened control over food aid, ordering that all food donations have to be channeled through local authorities. This may hinder food distribution.

The directive puts government agencies controlled by the ruling ZANU-PF party in charge of deciding who gets food and who doesn't. Up to now, donor groups were allowed to distribute food by themselves.

Speaking on the evening news Monday, Minister of Labor and Social Welfare July Moyo said food aid will now be distributed through existing government programs.

Luis Clemens, the spokesperson for the World Food Program, said his agency is seeking clarification from the government. Last year, the World Food Program provided food to four million Zimbabweans who were threatened with starvation.

This year, it's estimated that more than seven million Zimbabweans will not have sufficient food because of plummeting farm production and adverse weather conditions. Farming in Zimbabwe has been devastated by President Robert Mugabe's land reform program, under which most white farmers lost their land and many farm workers their jobs.

The Harare daily, The Daily News, said relief experts have warned that the new distribution arrangement - announced just days before local elections - could lead to political interference in food aid and prompt international donors to cut off aid to Zimbabwe.

Minister Moyo shrugged off such concerns, saying the donor groups had always worked with local authorities in identifying those in need of food aid. He added that the government has requested the food and the donors have no business telling it how to distribute it.