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Zimbabweans Face Hunger in Coming Months - 2003-12-23

The prospects of Zimbabwe facing hunger in the coming months are high, as stocks dwindle and donors ignore calls for more aid. The World Food Program says its decision to cut food rations in half will be extended well into next year.

The director of the World Food Program in Zimbabwe, Kevin Farrell, said on Tuesday that his greatest worry is that the WFP will not have enough food just when it needs it most, during the first months of the year, when family reserves have run out and the new crop has not been harvested.

He said the areas worst hit by food shortages are the southern Matabeleland province and some remote areas in the north of Zimbabwe.

In his words, the food reserves in Zimbabwe are very fragile. He says donors had come forward with only slightly more than one-half of the money needed to feed up to five million people, one out of two Zimbabweans. Even if new pledges come in now, Mr. Farrell says, it would take several months for the food to arrive.

As for the donors themselves, they say the government of President Robert Mugabe submitted its request for aid too late to make food available in time for the peak feeding period. Some donors were also disturbed that Zimbabwe had made no plans to import food itself to supplement donations.

Worse yet, donors, who asked not to be identified, said it is increasingly difficult to raise money for Zimbabwe's food crisis, which the international community views largely as man-made, blaming the government's disastrous farm expropriation policy over the last four years.

Agricultural economists say restoration of agricultural production would mean allowing some of the white commercial farmers who were chased out of their land back in.

The WFP says at reduced rations it has enough food for the next six months. But it predicts Zimbabwe's food crisis will last a lot longer, perhaps well into 2005.