- The Zimbabwean government is serious in its message to international donors, saying it does not need emergency food aid this year. While the UN estimates that some 5 million Zimbabwean need food aid, the government has now cancelled a UN food production and aid assessment operation.
By withdrawing its staff from a UN food production assessment mission last week, the government of Zimbabwe has "effectively cancelled the mission" and UN aid agencies may not be able to rebuild their operations quickly in case of an emergency, a UN official today warns. The UN today reports Zimbabwe now "jeopardizes future aid," while believing Zimbabweans soon may need this aid.
This UN warning comes only one day after it was known that Zimbabwean authorities had told international donors that the country does not need emergency food aid this year, because it expects a bumper harvest. "We have enough for local consumption," Labour Minister Paul Mangwana told local media.
Zimbabwe is however still struggling with the regional drought that has hit Southern Africa for three years, combined with the collapse of the national economy. International aid agencies estimate that more than 5 million Zimbabweans will require emergency food aid this year. Most of these live in urban areas - the strongholds of the opposition.
Today, the UN announced that Zimbabwean authorities were serious in their plans to halt the inflow of foreign emergency food aid. According to the UN Resident Coordinator in Zimbabwe, Victor Angelo, the government had last week withdrawn its support to a joint food assessment mission with the World Food Programme (WFP) and FAO.
- It is with regret and concern that I have to put on record that on 4 May 2004, the government of Zimbabwe recalled its field officers who were jointly participating in the assessment, said Mr Angelo. Since the mission is only conducted with the agreement and participation of the government, "this action effectively cancelled the mission," he said.
The Zimbabwean government had not replied to a request for clarification of its position, Mr Angelo added. The joint assessment mission, which produces credible production figures for planning purposes, was fielded on 30 April and was to have worked until 11 May, he explained. FAO and WFP had originally been invited to participate in the mission by the government.
The responsibility for providing basic needs to a population lies with its own government, but "we are concerned that should a food assistance need be identified later in the year and were the government to issue an appeal at that time, a very rapid response may not be possible," Mr Angelo warned.
The reasons for a slower response could be because the international community might not respond when the UN had had no chance to carry out its assessment at harvest time and WFP would have scaled back its operations in the country, he explained.
A Food Security Brief last month - produced by a joint team of UN agencies and the Zimbabwean government - estimated that the maize crop would be better than last year's, but only about 67 percent to 80 percent of need, "not ... sufficient to cover domestic requirements for the coming year."
Meanwhile, "high inflation is decreasing real incomes, and high unemployment levels continue to reduce purchasing power for the majority of households," the UN/Zimbabwean report said.
The Zimbabwean opposition has strongly warned against halting foreign emergency aid, pointing to the severe food shortage experienced in particular in urban areas. Without international help, people will starve, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) opposition party holds.
The MDC on several occasions has accused the government of using hunger as a political weapon in Zimbabwe. Also foreign donors have supported the MDC accusations that food aid has been withheld from opposition sympathisers and strongholds.
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