Govt’s food u-turn follows heavy diplomatic pressure

Augustine Mukaro/Blessing Zulu

GOVERNMENT’S reversal of its policy on food relief distribution was as a result of heavy diplomatic pressure from the United Nations bodies handling humanitarian aid to Zimbabw

e, it has been learnt.


Diplomatic sources said the United Nations Development Programme resident representative and humanitarian co-ordinator, Victor Angelo, and World Food Programme director in Zimbabwe, Kevin Farrell, put immense pressure on government to review its directive that food aid should only be channelled through government structures.


Their pressure was complemented by donors’ threats to stop humanitarian assistance if government had enforced the new policy.


“Angelo and Farrell met with the Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, July Moyo over the subject,” a diplomat said.


“The minister gave assurances that there are no significant changes in the system of food aid distribution already in place and that NGOs should continue their work in co-ordination with local government structures.


“Moyo reiterated that the current system of food aid distribution is functioning satisfactorily.”


The Zimbabwe Humanitarian Situation Report released last week said the WFP regional director raised the issue with President Robert Mugabe who reaffirmed previous assurances that food aid would not be used for political purposes.


“It was stressed that WFP’s implementing partners continue to be considered responsible and accountable for the food up to the point of handover to beneficiaries,” the report says.


“WFP is hoping to finalise with government the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the emergency operation for 2003/2004. WFP considers this MOU essential to ensure that food aid distributions can proceed based on vulnerability only,” the report says.


Last week donors also asked for clarification on the controversial issue.

Donors want the food distribution process to continue as it has been in the past – for the process to be transparent and the beneficiary lists to be determined in public non-political meetings.


“All were unanimous, politicisation of food aid would not be acceptable. They commended WFP’s policy of zero tolerance of politicisation of food aid and insisted that this be the basis for future support,” the report said.


The backtrack comes after government closed UN Relief and Recovery Unit field offices in mid-August.


Government alleged that not all procedures for the establishment of this field presence had been properly followed resulting in UN field staff being recalled to Harare.


The provincial field units are mandated to provide support to provincial and district level co-ordination structures in the humanitarian fields. They are also supposed to monitor, from an independent perspective, assistance provided with donor resources.

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