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WFP Warns Zimbabwe About Decision to Take Over Food Distribution - 2003-08-22

Zimbabwe is on a collision course with the donor community over the government's decision to take over the distribution of food aid. The World Food Program says it will suspend food relief programs if the government interferes in its work.

The World Food Program says there has not been any interference with food distribution as yet. But WFP spokesman Luis Clemens says the organization will stop providing emergency food aid if the government attempts to take over its distribution.

"Where there is no interference, where there is no variation from how we have been working in the past we continue with the distributions, where there is a problem, some sort of political interference, we stop," he said.

Mr. Clemens was responding to a new directive from the Zimbabwe government which mandates that distribution of all relief supplies be carried out by government agencies. Until now distribution has been done by relief agencies, such as the WFP.

Most relief agencies have said little about the directive other then expressing their dismay. But the WFP's Luis Clemens says that it would put food distribution into the hands of elected officials, such as rural councilors paid by the government, who might discriminate against those who do not support the ruling party.

He said that nothing was resolved at a meeting between representatives of the relief agencies and Minister of Social Welfare July Moyo earlier this week. The minister is expected to invite the humanitarian groups involved to another meeting soon.

Zimbabwe used to be a net food exporter but last year four million Zimbabweans had to receive food aid. This year, the WFP estimates that 5.5 million will need relief.

Aid agencies have blamed the food shortages on adverse weather conditions and a slump in production resulting from President Robert Mugabe's controversial land reform program.