GOVERNMENT has made a significant u-turn by returning to the World Food Programme (WFP) to ask for assistance despite President Robert Mugabe’s recent declaration that the country would not
require food from donors, the Zimbabwe Independent heard last week.
WFP regional public affairs officer for southern Africa, Mike Huggins, told the Independent that the Zimbabwean government had made a request for aid but wanted it in the form of “targeted assistance”.
“The government of Zimbabwe, in the weeks following WFP’s routine scaling down (of operations in the country) announced it had produced a bumper harvest this year and will no longer require emergency food aid assistance,” Huggins said.
“It has however asked WFP to continue with targeted assistance for the foreseeable future, which we are happy to do.”
President Mugabe recently told Sky News that Zimbabwe would not need food assistance because it expected a bumper harvest this season.
Groups set to benefit from the targeted food aid include orphans, lactating women, and people living with HIV/Aids.
Said Huggins: “WFP will therefore continue to operate in Zimbabwe, feeding 550 000 people through targeted assistance programmes to orphans, those suffering the effects of HIV/Aids, the elderly and malnourished children.”
In March alone, WFP fed 4,5 million people, while in April at least four million benefited from its food assistance.
Huggins refuted international media reports that a WFP team led by its executive director and UN special representative for humanitarian needs for southern Africa, James Morris, was snubbed by the Zimbabwean government.
“To set the record straight, Mr Morris and the UN team (of which I was a member) were not ‘snubbed’,” Huggins said.
“It was a clash of schedules, which meant that Zimbabwe had to be dropped from the mission’s itinerary.”
The team visited Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland and Zambia.
Huggins said Harare had already offered to reschedule a meeting with the WFP soon.
The purpose of the visit was to discuss the three pillars of the UN’s Consolidated Appeal Process, notably social sectors, HIV/Aids and economic recovery.
At the height of the food crisis in Zimbabwe, WFP fed at least 6,5 million people.
Said Huggins: “This was no easy feat, with WFP relying on the implementation expert capabilities of 14 NGOs who effectively provided a lifeline to Zimbabweans in their hour of need.”
Morris told journalists in South Africa on June 22 that HIV/Aids was worsening the food crises in the sub-region.
“HIV/Aids is greatly exacerbating the effects of food shortages in southern Africa, and the epidemic is killing those who normally produce the region’s food,” Morris said.
Zimbabwe has at least 800 000 orphans because of the pandemic and is ranked among the top five countries in the world that have the highest rate of HIV infections and death rates due to the Aids scourge.
The WFP director also said due to HIV/Aids, the sub-region has become the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis.