ZAMBIA: Government confident of food supplies
johannesburg, 23 September 2002 (IRIN) - Aid agencies have welcomed a Zambian government announcement that it is to start distributing 40,000 mt of maize meal this week bought from local millers to ease the country's food crisis.
"That's good news for us, we're short of food," CARE International assistant country director, Gordon Mair, told IRIN on Monday. "We could be distributing a lot more food than we are."
Permanent secretary in the Office of the Vice-President, Webster Mulubisha, told IRIN: "In a few weeks from now I don't think they'll be talking of shortages. The government has taken steps to ensure that food will be flowing ... We will flood the hunger-stricken areas with mealie [maize] meal."
He said the government had bought "40,000 mt plus" of excess roller meal from local millers which would meet the country's food demands until October/November.
Mulubisha said the government expected the arrival of an additional 12,000 mt of yellow maize, sourced by the World Food Programme (WFP) in South Africa, but which was awaiting an import permit. That, in addition to separate government food purchases, would mean "we are confident there won't be any break in supply" over the next six months, the permanent secretary said.
The Office of Vice-President Enoch Kavindele is in charge of the country's disaster management.
Zambia's relief effort needs 15,000 mt of food a month between now and December, according to WFP. Thereafter, the food demand will rise as the country enters the traditional hunger season before next year's harvest in March/April. During that period, the total number of people in need of food aid will hit 2.9 million.
"The food crisis is there all right, but I don't think it's as huge as has been reported - it's been blown out of proportion. The situation is manageable," Mulubisha said.
He told IRIN that he could not comment on news reports on Monday that hungry villagers in Monze, in Zambia's worst-affected Southern province, had looted 500 bags of genetically modified (GM) relief maize. The government has banned the distribution of GM food on health grounds, while a team of scientists gathers evidence on its safety.
"Definitely, the crisis can be managed without GM food. But donors shouldn't punish us for refusing GM food, it is not out of disrespect, the government has its own reasons for not taking GM food," Mulubisha said.
"The government is trying to do its best," Tom Vincent, emergency coordinator for the NGO Catholic Relief Services, told IRIN. "It's early days for all of us, and we've got to give them a chance. If they give us the food, we'll ship it out."