Britain has become the latest country to pledge renewed food aid for Zimbabwe, after the resolution of a dispute with the government over its distribution plan. According to the United Nations, about half of Zimbabwe's people will depend on food aid to survive until the 2004 harvest.

The British government made its pledge to the World Food Program at a ceremony in Harare. Speaking at the event, British High Commissioner Brian Donnelly also announced a pledge to UNICEF for Zimbabwe's immunization program.

"We are pledging a further five-million pounds to W-F-P and one-point-eight-eight (million pounds) to UNICEF. We hope that these commitments will assist W-F-P and UNICEF in their important work tackling food shortages and ensuring that children can be vaccinated against potentially fatal diseases."

A few-weeks ago, food aid to Zimbabwe was hanging in the balance, after the Zimbabwean government announced its intention to take over the distribution of food, using its own officials throughout the country.

This raised fears of the politicization of food aid. The World Food Program said, if food distribution were politicized, it would stop its operations in the country.

The impasse was broken in late September with the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the U-N agency and the Zimbabwean government stating that there would be no government interference in food distribution.

The W-F-P resident representative in Zimbabwe, Kevin Farrell, says the British pledge brings the total amount of aid available to just more than 40-percent of the 197-million dollars needed. The agency expects that about five-and-one-half-million Zimbabweans will need food aid, at least until early next year.

Zimbabwe used to be a food exporter, but has needed food aid since 2001 as a result of adverse weather conditions and President Robert Mugabe's chaotic and sometimes violent land-reform program.

Under the program, white farmers lost their land to make way for landless blacks. But some of the best land ended up in the hands of senior government and ruling party officials. They, and other resettled black farmers lack the skills and the money to maintain production.

President Mugabe has acknowledged that the exercise did not go according to plan.