World Bank approves US $50 million assistance package

The World Bank has approved an assistance package of US $50 million for Zambia to help the country cope with its food crisis.

"We believe it's going to be significant for Zambia," Bank agriculture specialist in Zambia, Alex Mwanakasale, told IRIN on Thursday. "It's intended to help relieve the pressure on the government from the crisis brought about by drought in the last crop season."

He said the package consisted of a US $20 million grant and a US $30 million credit. About 2.9 million people require direct food assistance until the March/April harvest. Earlier this month the Bank provided a similar assistance package for Malawi, which is facing similar difficulties.

Mwanakasale explained that US $35 million would be for a list of "positive inputs" like petrol, which was a significant expense for the government.

A Bank statement said other inputs included agricultural machinery and equipment, livestock and animal health products, medical supplies, construction materials, transport vehicles, motorcycles and bicycles. This would free up money the government could spend on social, education and health programmes.

Another component was a "social safety net" public works programme where communities would receive cash to work on improving rural roads. This would bring cash into the communities and enable them to buy food.

There would also be a small school feeding programme to provide relief food to children at school, and a ration for them to take home.

The money would also go towards improving agricultural productivity for the upcoming season by helping 120,000 drought-affected farmers with seed and fertiliser.

Mwanakasale said that NGOs, who were already involved in these projects, would qualify for retro-finance if they met certain criteria.

The final component was for the development of an early warning and disaster management system.