African Press International (API)

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Zimbabwe: Reports of spreading hunger and poverty

Posted by African Press International on August 31, 2008

Johannesburg (South Africa) – By the end of the year nearly half of Zimbabwe’s population will be at risk of starvation, and right now hungry people are resorting to desperate measures, including marrying off underage daughters to old men in return for food and general support, a new report says.

The report, compiled by the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, Solidarity Peace Trust and Amandla Publishers, is based partly on interviews with Zimbabweans at Musina, who are among the upsurge in those fleeing to South Africa, refugees in Johannesburg, and people  in Harare. The interviews were done between July 27 and August 13.

The reason for this huge increase in suffering is as simple as it is brutal: Robert Mugabe has reneged on the pledge he made when he signed the 21 July Memorandum of Understanding with Morgan Tsvangarai to lift immediately and unconditionally his regime’s ban on NGOs distributing food aid. Mugabe, in characteristic fashion, has ignored first private and then public appeals from Japan, Western countries, which are the major aid donors, and the European Commission, as well as from Tsvangarai himself to lift the ban. It was imposed by the regime June 4 on the spurious ground that NGOs were campaigning for the MDC.

At the beginning of August, the regime announced a partial lifting of the ban, permitting the resumption of feeding programmes for HIV/AIDs patients. But the wider ban remains in effect.

“The suspension of humanitarian operations is estimated to have put the lives of more than 1.5 million marginalised Zimbabweans at risk already,” said the report. “Without the immediate resumption of food aid across the country, widespread hunger and worsening malnutrition are unavoidable.”
It noted that the two main international food agencies, the World Food Programme and the Food and Agricultural Organisation, estimate that 2.04 million Zimbabweans in rural and urban areas do not have enough food now. By January, the organisations say that 5.1 million will be at risk of starvation – about 45% of the population.

“The government has always maintained a stranglehold on food distribution with a view to ensuring that those receiving the food associate this generosity with the government, rather than the donors,” the report noted. It quoted Mbare residents as saying they registered for but have never received the  recently announced state-funded hampers, and independent media reports say these are reserved for supporters of  Mugabe’s Zanu (PF). Opposition supporters have to resort to measures like buying maize meal for hard currency from those “connected,” such as policemen. Many families eat only once a day, and rural people are selling off livestock for cash to buy food, and eating wild fruits.

“Reports of the revival of the tradition of child brides under which desperate families marry off their underage girls to elderly well-off men in return for food and general support are now commonplace in rural areas in the southern provinces,” the report added.

As well as food, the continuing ban on NGO operations affects water and sanitation services as some aid agencies provide these, and has led to staff being laid off, adding to the legions of unemployed.

“It is critical that the Zimbabwe government immediately lift the suspension of field operations by aid agencies,” the report said. “Given the lead time required to bring in imported maize for distribution and agricultural inputs for the new planting season, the government needs to act swiftly to avert a very serious humanitarian catastrophe from worsening next year,” the report said.

API/Source.The Zimbabwean (UK/Zimbabwe), by a correspondent

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