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New Report Shows Millions Need Food Aid in Zimbabwe - 2004-08-15

According to a new vulnerability assessment, Zimbabweans are again in need of food aid, and, by November, nearly five-million will need emergency assistance. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network, known as FEWS Net, paints a grim picture of last season's harvest.

FEWS Net estimates that Zimbabwe's total grain harvest last season may have reached up to 1.1 million tons. The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization provides a slightly lower estimate.

Zimbabwe's government insists that the country grew more than double that amount.

FEWS Net, which is funded by U.S. Agency for International Development, is considered a long-standing and reliable barometer on the issue of food security for southern Africa.

The organization says in its latest report that hunger began becoming a serious problem for many communities at the end of July, and that it would escalate in the next four months.

It said the feeding of vulnerable communities by international food agencies ended in response to the Zimbabwe government's own announcement that the last harvest was a good one.

FEWS Net said that, in addition to food shortages, millions of urban Zimbabweans have been persistently short of water since May. It blames the water shortages on mismanagement by the central government.

In its assessment, FEWS Net says it is worrisome that the government has failed to provide any information about its grain imports.

FEWS Net's recent vulnerability assessment was its first since President Robert Mugabe said two months ago that Zimbabwe had grown a sufficient amount of food, that it would not need to import any, and that relief agencies should go home.

FEWS Net also said in urban areas, although food is available in the shops, rising unemployment and deepening urban poverty mean many cannot afford to buy it. According to FEWS Net, the cost of one staple food, cornmeal, went up by 44 percent between May and June of this year.

Zimbabwe's Central Statistics Office last week announced that inflation rates were falling, but this largely referred to non-food items.