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UN food agency seeks urgent new aid for Zimbabwe

As hunger looms, UN food agency seeks urgent new aid for Zimbabwe

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today appealed for urgent new cash contributions for Zimbabwe, where more than 2.6 million people face a bleak Christmas after their rations were halved because of insufficient donations.

"It's tragic that these ration cuts have come at a time when people are normally celebrating the festive season, but if we're not given food or cash by donors, then we're simply unable to meet their food needs," Mike Sackett, WFP Regional Director for Southern Africa, said in a news release in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The agency warned that prospects for the first quarter of 2004 look even worse. "We urgently need new cash contributions to avoid a further reduction in rations which would have devastating consequences," Mr. Sackett said.

In July, the agency appealed for $311 million to feed 6.5 million people in southern Africa through next June, but to date donors have come forward with less than half, leaving a $161.3 million shortfall. Two thirds of the overall amount is needed for Zimbabwe, where more than 4 million people will need WFP assistance by early next year.

The country's lean season starts in January when granaries tend to be empty and people enduring food shortages are most reliant on outside aid. "Without sufficient food, people won't have enough energy to cultivate crops for the year's first harvest, which is vital for stabilizing a household's food needs," Mr. Sackett said.

Few people still have income or savings to buy staple foods, which have jumped in price by nearly 50 per cent in the last few weeks. Compounding this, water and sewerage systems are nearing collapse, heightening the likelihood of cholera, dysentery and diarrhoea outbreaks, which could significantly affect a weakened population's ability to assimilate what little food they have. It is thought that well over half of Zimbabwe's urban population live below the poverty line.

Compounding the shortages is the spread of HIV/AIDS. Zimbabwe has an adult prevalence rate of 33 per cent, while some 23 per cent of the country's farm labourers are estimated to have either already died or are too sick to work. As a result, yields have declined by 59 per cent and produce reaching the market has dropped by 66 per cent.

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