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Zimbabwe Fuel Shortage Cripples Transportation - 2003-10-18

A severe shortage of fuel in Zimbabwe has sharply reduced bus and government transport services, causing further hardships for the populace.

The full extent of the fuel shortage was reported Saturday in the state-owned Herald newspaper, contradicting an official statement earlier in the week by Minister of Energy Amos Midzi that there was sufficient fuel in the country.

Some commuter bus operators had stopped operating, saying government-controlled fares were too low. In response, the government allowed an increase in fares. But the newspaper says, because of the continuing fuel shortage, public transport in Zimbabwe continues to be scarce.

In an attempt to resolve the four-year-old fuel crisis in Zimbabwe, the government gave up its monopoly on fuel imports in August. This allowed oil companies to import fuel and sell it at what Mr. Midzi called "market related prices". The plan was for the government to import fuel for its own use, and for public transport operators and the agricultural sector. This fuel was to be sold at much lower prices at specified gas stations.

While the supply situation has somewhat improved for ordinary motorists, all filling stations are selling fuel at higher prices than those set by the government.

With the rainy season about to begin, farmers' organizations have announced their intention to import their own fuel.

The Herald says the army, police, railways and police and ambulance services are all operating below capacity due to the shortage. A doctor at one rural hospital told the newspaper that relatives of patients are being asked to provide fuel, if they want their sick ferried to hospital.

Prior to surrendering its monopoly on fuel imports, the government went into fuel supply agreements with oil producing countries, notably Libya. However, most deals have collapsed, as Zimbabwe, suffering a crippling shortage of foreign currency, has had to default on payments.