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Bleak Christmas for Zimbabweans as Child Malnutrition Soars

A key Western charity in Zimbabwe says the level of child malnutrition is rising, while the United Nations says half the country's population needs emergency food aid and its stocks of food will last only a few more weeks, and at the same time Zimbabwe's cholera epidemic may worsen.

According to Save the Children U.K., child malnutrition in Zimbabwe is increasing as the emergency food aid pipeline falters.

Acute child malnutrition in parts of Zimbabwe has increased by almost two-thirds compared with last year, according to Save the Children.

Many areas of Zimbabwe are not well monitored, but Save the Children has long been involved in the Binga district on the edge of Lake Kariba in northwest Zimbabwe.

Chronic, long-term malnutrition in Binga district has increased to 50 percent from a year ago, and about one-third of the children under age five are underweight due to acute malnutrition.

Save the Children said the new statistics reinforce growing concern that emergency supplies into Zimbabwe are faltering, because not enough food is being donated by the international community.

Save the Children is supplying emergency food aid in Binga using supplies brought into the country by the World Food Program. But the U.N. agency says it is 18,000 tons short of the food needed for January, leaving it with only half the amount it needs for the month. Supplies for February and March are even less certain.

Save the Children in Zimbabwe Program Director Lynn Walker said in areas the group serves some children are wasting away from lack of food. She says compared with last year indications are that things are significantly worse.

Walker said Save the Children has cut rations to families and this will get worse early next year unless the West donates urgently and the World Food Program gets food moving into Zimbabwe.

Meanwhile, several Western doctors, including at least one American, who went into Zimbabwe last week to assist with the cholera epidemic say they had to flee after being harassed by Zimbabwe's Central Intelligence Organization.

More than 1,100 people have died and at least 20,000 have been infected with easily preventable cholera. The United Nations says 60,000 could be infected during the current summer rains because Zimbabwe's health system has collapsed.