A top US food aid official today warned Zimbabwe will face a “major famine” if the government does not clear away bureaucratic roadblocks and allow massive amounts of food to be imported by the end of the year.
Tony Hall, the US ambassador to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, has spent three days touring relief projects in the southern African country.
“The critical time is in the next two months,” Hall said. “If by the end of December enough food has not arrived in this country, there is going to be major famine and there is going to be major death.”
An estimated 6.7 million Zimbabweans, more than half the nation’s 12.5 million people, are in danger of going hungry this year, according to the UN’s World Food Programme.
The government allows some aid groups to distribute free food in the country but maintains a monopoly on selling grain.
Aid workers have complained that a major crisis will hit the nation unless businesses are allowed to import and sell grain.
Though the Zimbabwean government has repeatedly denied using food as a political weapon, Hall said he heard specific testimony that the government refused to sell grain to opposition supporters and in areas considered hotbeds of opposition support.
Hall said Social Welfare Minister July Moyo acknowledged that private grain shipments “had been held up for political reasons”.
Zimbabwe is the hardest-hit of six southern African nations facing a food crisis. Hall expected the US to give more than half the food needed to carry the region through to the harvest in March.
Aid officials blamed Zimbabwe’s problems on inclement weather as well as the government’s seizures of thousands of white-owned commercial farms for redistribution to landless blacks.
“Drought has not caused this problem, it has only compounded the problem,” Hall said.
The US ambassador to Zimbabwe, Joe Sullivan, said Washington had offered to support previous land reform plans, but would not assist the current seizures “carried out in a violent manner without reference to the rule of law”.