HomePoliticsBleak outlook for vulnerable, say aid workers

Bleak outlook for vulnerable, say aid workers

The dilemma of food availability and affordability in Zimbabwe could translate into worse-than-expected needs during the traditional lean season before the new harvest in March/April next year, say aid workers.

In its latest situation report the World Food Programme (WFP)

noted that the “availability and/or accessibility (of food) remained problematic in much of the country”, and that the state’s “Grain Marketing Board (GMB) depots have consistently received insufficient grain to meet the needs of vulnerable households”.

“In addition to the problems and delays in sourcing adequate grain by the GMB, lack of transport and erratic fuel supplies are exacerbating the situation. The GMB has reportedly asked local authorities to organise and collect grain from the depot with their own transport, but this has met with little or no success,” WFP pointed out.

Market traders have reported shortages of maize and are expecting prices to rise. In Masvingo province in the southeast of the country, “the GMB maize grain was available in local shops in two districts, and reappeared in open markets in two additional districts”, but “shortages of bread, milk and salt continued” in Zimbabwe’s second city, Bulawayo.

“I am very concerned that, due to high inflation and the resultant constant price increases of staple goods and essential services (including education, which has is now very costly), the worst-case scenario from the 2005 ZimVac (Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee report) will become a reality,” an aid worker, who wished to remain anonymous, told IRIN.

The Zimbabwe VAC report indicated that 2.9 million people – an estimated 36 percent of Zimbabwe’s rural population – would require food aid during the year ahead. The number of people in need was based on the government’s announced plan to import 1.2 million metric tonnes of maize to address food shortages brought on by drought, inadequate access to inputs and limited tillage.

However, if the imported maize was not made available through the GMB, or if it increased in price, the number of people requiring food assistance would rise substantially.

As a contingency measure, the World Food Programme has said it planned to assist up to four million people in Zimbabwe in the year ahead.

But the aid worker said “the operating environment is also very difficult, due to the levels of bureaucracy” in Zimbabwe.

Save the Children’s acting programme director in Zimbabwe, Julian Smith, noted that “there will be an earlier hunger season” in the country as a result of erratic GMB supplies.

“I am not optimistic in terms of the outlook. I fully support those … who are privately planning for the worst-case scenario (of having to feed more than 4 million people),” he said.

The VAC report based its estimates of the number of people who would need aid on the assumption that GMB maize would be continuously available at a high but stable price, but “neither of these assumptions has held”.

“The number of people unable to meet their (food) needs will therefore be much higher,” Smith noted. “Some humanitarian agencies put the rural population in need of food assistance at closer to 5 million”, he added.

Zimbabwe’s total population of 11.6 million has faced four consecutive years of food shortages. — IRIN

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