- Despite sanctions and diplomatic ties at the freezing point, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) today announced that it would increase its food aid distribution to Zimbabwe. While USAID insists there is a food emergency situation in Zimbabwe caused by the local government, Harare claims there is no need for food aid, especially not from the US.
Due to the conflict between Washington and Harare, USAID cannot distribute its food aid directly in Zimbabwe - which officially does not need any food aid. Washington therefore is to donate an additional 47,400 metric tonnes of food assistance to the UN's World Food Program (WFP) and the NGO Consortium for the Southern Africa Food Security Emergency (C-SAFE). These two agencies thus are to distribute the US food aid in Zimbabwe.
According to a press release from USAID sent to afrol News, the Washington government is indeed pouring great sums into Zimbabwe, which US authorities often refer to as a "pariah country". This additional USAID donation will bring the total US food assistance to Zimbabwe in 2007 to 143,270 tonnes, valued at approximately US$ 145 million - meeting approximately one-third of the assessed food emergency needs through Zimbabwe's next harvest in March of 2008.
"The cornmeal, bulgur wheat, oil and beans provided by the US government will be distributed freely, based on need, to those Zimbabweans who are unable to provide food for themselves and their families," the USAID release said. "This new contribution of 47,400 metric tonnes of food is enough to feed over half-a-million people for a full six months."
The government agency does not miss its chance to criticise the politics of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in the release. "Detrimental government of Zimbabwe policies, coupled with poor rains and drought conditions during the 2006-2007 agricultural growing season, resulted in widespread crop failure and severe yield shortfalls in the southern part of the country," the statement said.
The current drought is said to have exacerbated Zimbabwe's ongoing economic and political crisis. It is estimated that the number of Zimbabweans in need of food assistance will peak at 4.1 million - more than a third of Zimbabwe's estimated total population - at the height of the hunger season between January and March 2008, according to a recent UN report. Experts estimate that this year's maize production will leave between one third and half of the country's food requirements unsatisfied.
USAID says it has been "actively involved in responding to the food security situation in Zimbabwe since early 2002" and has delivered more than 700,000 tonnes of food aid valued at more than US$ 400 million to Zimbabwe over the last five years, "making it the largest donor of food assistance in that country."
The International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and most key Western donor countries suspended financial aid to Zimbabwe more than six years ago, following the seizure of commercial farm lands and attacks on the democratic institutions of the country. Western donors have however continued delivering emergency aid to Zimbabwe.
There have been repeated problems regarding the deliveries of this emergency aid, making food aid into a highly politicised issue in Zimbabwe. On several occasions, while UN agencies have warned about food emergencies, President Mugabe has flatly denied that the country was in need of aid, thus ordering the halt of emergency food distribution.
On other occasions, President Mugabe and his ruling ZANU-PF party have been accused of distributing food aid only to political followers, denying aid to parts of the country voting for the MDC opposition. This again has led Western donors to carefully search for trustworthy channels for food distribution in Zimbabwe, aiming to avoid that their food aid is used as a political arm.
The Harare government finally has accused Western counties for being responsible of what there may be of malnutrition in the country, pointing to the colonial history, anti-Zimbabwean so-called racist policies, the current suspension of aid and trade and to sanctions imposed by the West.
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