The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has begun emergency food aid distributions in Zimbabwe, but there is concern that generalised food shortages across the country could mean that the planned supplies may not cover all those in need.
WFP's distribution started on Wednesday with a one-month ration of maize-meal to 40,000 people threatened by serious food shortages in Hwange, Matabeleland North. It is being carried out by WFP's partner the Organisation of Rural Associations for Progress (ORAP), and is part of WFP's larger operation to deliver one-month food rations to more than 100,000 people over the next two weeks, the agency said in a press release.
WFP aims to reach some 558,000 vulnerable people after the March presidential election in Zimbabwe's 19-worst-affected districts in the south, west and extreme north of the country.
But Chris McIvor of the development agency Save the Children Fund (SCF) told IRIN that the calculations on which development agencies based their relief intervention have been overtaken by general food shortages across the country. The lack of food on the shelves means that even those members of the community who can afford the rising prices cannot find the goods to buy.
He explained that targeted aid programmes in Zimbabwe are aimed at the poor and vulnerable. "But if you arrive in a comunity where everybody is hungry [and only provide food to some], tensions will definitely rise."
As a result, SCF plans to move to general food disribution in the Zambezi valley in the north of the country from March, doubling SCF's benificiaries to some 120,000.
Local shops throughout the country continue to report shortages of basic foods including maize-meal, cooking oil and fresh milk. According to WFP, the price of maize has skyrocketed from Z$22 (US 40 cents at the official rate) per kilo in October 2001 to Z$44.4 per kilo in February 2002, "which is abnormally high for this time of year".
"As food supplies grow scarcer and scarcer, hunger is becoming a grim day-to-day reality for hundreds of thousands of people," said Pierre Saillez, Officer-in-Charge of WFP's Zimbabwe country office.
Zimbabwe has also been experiencing a long, dry spell that is likely to result in the loss of parts of this year's maize crop, and many farmers talk of seed and fertiliser shortages, the agency statement added.
To date, WFP's US $60 million appeal to fund its emergency operation, which runs until January 2003, has received just US $5.5 million, or 10 percent of its needs. This includes a recent US $5 million contribution from the British government.
"Food is now arriving at a steady pace, but, without quick food and cash contributions, we will soon face a rupture in food supplies," Saillez was quoted in the statement as saying.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions