Emergency food assistance for nearly half of Zimbabwe's 12 million population could run out at the peak of the crisis if donors fail to provide US$140 million, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said in a statement on 9 October.
"Millions of Zimbabweans have already run out of food or are surviving on just one meal a day – and the crisis is going to get much worse in the coming months," said Mustapha Darboe, WFP Regional Director for East, Central and Southern Africa. "WFP can prevent this crisis from becoming a disaster but we need more donations – and we need them now."
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission, more than two million people were already in need of assistance and this number would rise to 5.1 million – or 45 percent of the population – in early 2009.
About 28 percent of children under five were chronically malnourished, which has a "devastating effect in the long-term development of kids," WFP's Southern Africa spokesman, Richard Lee, told IRIN.
Lee said the WFP were confident that the global credit crunch would not impact on the ability of donor countries to contribute, but "clearly it is a difficult time for many countries and there are pressing concerns for them ... some are major donors."
The food crisis was most critical in rural areas, a situation exacerbated by President Robert Mugabe's ban on operations by non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including food distribution, for nearly three months during presidential elections earlier this year.
"A large number of farmers harvested little – if anything – this year, and have now exhausted their meagre stocks. Many hungry families are reportedly living on one meal a day, exchanging precious livestock for buckets of maize or eating wild foods such as baobab and amarula," WFP said.
"WFP currently faces a shortfall of over 145,000 metric tonnes of food, including 110,000 tonnes of cereals. Without extra donations, WFP will run out of supplies in January – just as needs are peaking," the food relief agency said.
The WFP hoped to provide food assistance to 1.8 million people by the end of October, scaling up operations to about 3.3 million people in the first quarter of 2009, before the main cereal harvest in April.
"In addition, WFP is targeting around 800,000 people each month under its separate safety-net programmes, taking its overall caseload to around 2.5 million in October and more than 4 million in the first three months of 2009," the WFP said.
|WFP is targetting around 800,000 people each month under its separate safety-net programmes, taking its overall caseload to around 2.5 million in October and more than 4 million in the first three months of 2009|
The safety-net programme specifically targets people living with HIV/AIDS, families affected by the pandemic, children and the elderly, Lee said.
It was envisaged that the shortfall of about one million people in need of food assistance in districts not covered by WFP would be provided for by C-SAFE, a group of US-sponsored NGOs, bringing the total number of people reached at the peak of the food crisis to about five million people, WFP said.
Food shortages were being experienced throughout Zimbabwe and the WFP would expand its operations from the current 32 districts to 37, and "enhance the nutritional quality of its food basket by adding corn-soya blend to its basic mix of cereals, pulses and vegetable oil to help prevent malnutrition rates from rising," WFP said.
The huge logistic operation has seen WFP recently establish a transhipment point in Gweru, in Zimbabwe's Midlands Province, and another warehouse in the South African town of Musina, near the border, which has the capacity to bag 50,000 tonnes of grain in the next six months.
"Our donors have been extraordinarily generous over the past six years, but the food crisis is far from over. We are urging them to dig deep once again," said Darboe, adding that cash donations would allow the purchase of crucial commodities within the region.
WFP has so far received almost $175 million in 2008 for Zimbabwe food relief operations.