DESPITE President Robert Mugabe’s continued attacks on Western countries, the government has once again gone cap-in-hand to the international community to fill the country’s begging bowl.
The Zimbabwe Independent heard this week that the government has written to the World Food Programme (WFP) to extend its humanitarian assistance to Zimbabwe for another year as last season’s harvest will not be enough to feed the nation.
Most food donated to Zimbabwe through the WFP and other aid agencies – after President Mugabe sent out an SOS last year – came from the United States and Britain.
Mugabe has persistently attacked the two countries for supporting the opposition MDC and advancing an imperialist agenda in Zimbabwe.
The WFP is not a donor but mobilises resources from donors on behalf of nations in distress.
The request comes at a time when the WFP was gradually scaling down its food distribution programme, closing some of its sub-offices in preparation for a complete pullout at the end of this month. The move has raised fears that the closure could result in serious food shortages in districts of Masvingo, Midlands, Mashonaland Central and Matabeleland which have experienced complete crop failure.
The WFP confirmed having received a letter from the Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare ministry on May 27, appealing for continued food assistance.
“The letter was signed on behalf of the Minister for Social Welfare,” WFP spokesperson Makena Walker told the Independent this week. “The request paves way for WFP and other donors to commence strategising for assistance to cover the 2003/4 season.”
Walker said the WFP would not respond to government’s request until the United Nations approves their emergency operations proposal.
“We would prepare a project proposal giving details of the gravity of the assistance needed for approval after which a consolidated appeal would be launched,” she said.
Diplomatic sources said chances of large-scale humanitarian assistance to Zimbabwe were very slim considering the fact that a number of southern African countries which experienced serious food shortages in the 2002/2003 season had realised a surplus in the current season.
Sources said donors were not likely to respond to the Zimbabwean appeal in time because of commitments elsewhere and the current stand-off between Harare and the international community.
UN assessors pointed out that the food situation in Zimbabwe was not likely to improve within the next two seasons because of the prevailing land problems.
Government projects maize production of 571 000 tonnes for the 2002/3 season of which only 56 000 tonnes is expected to flow to the Grain Marketing Board.
“The estimates mean that the country will have a 1,09 million-tonne deficit for the 2003/4 marketing year,” it says.
Zimbabwe has an annual requirement of 1,9 million tonnes of the staple maize to bridge its marketing year. The figure does not include around 500 000 tonnes of strategic grain reserves.