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Zimbabwe: UN cuts back food aid to millions amid serious funding crisis

Zimbabwe: UN cuts back food aid to millions amid serious funding crisis

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned today that it is facing a serious funding crisis in providing life-saving aid to over 4 million people in Zimbabwe suffering the effects of a disastrous harvest, and it has already been forced to cut rations.

WFP still requires $140 million to fund its operations in Zimbabwe until the end of March 2009 – with a shortfall of approximately 145,000 tons of food, including 110,000 metric tons of cereals and 35,000 metric tons of other food commodities,” the agency said in an update detailing its first month of large-scale distributions in October.

“There is currently no food in the pipeline for distributions in January and February – just when the crisis is reaching its peak and when WFP is aiming to assist over 4 million people each month.”

In October WFP distributed 29,000 tons of food to around 2 million vulnerable people across the southern African country and plans to double the beneficiaries in November by scaling up its operations to reach almost 4 million hungry people in rural and urban areas. But it will have to cut back on the individual rations so as to provide something for all beneficiaries.

“In the worst affected communities, people are surviving on one meal a day – at most,” WFP said. “There are widespread reports of people skipping meals for an entire day or eating wild foods such as baobab seeds and amarula fruit. Hungry families are being forced to exchange their precious livestock for buckets of maize.

“Other families have no option but to beg for help or to resort to other desperate measures to survive – selling their few remaining household assets, migrating in search of work and food, pulling children out of school, etc.”

In November, WFP aims to distribute around 46,000 tons to more than 3.3 million people under the vulnerable group feeding (VGF) programme and around 600,000 under the safety net programmes but will not be able to provide every beneficiary with a full food basket.

“WFP needs additional donations urgently since it takes between six and eight weeks to transform a cash contribution into food on a beneficiary’s table,” the agency said.

The November cereal ration has been cut from 12 kilograms to 10 kilograms per person per month and the pulse ration from 1.8 kilograms to one kilogram for all VGF beneficiaries and for people receiving take-home rations under the safety net programmes.

“These cuts will allow WFP to stretch its available resources as far as possible but they will leave greater numbers more malnourished and more susceptible to disease,” the agency said.

According to the latest UN figures, the number of people needing assistance will rise to 5.1 million, or 45 per cent of the population, at the expected peak of the crisis in early 2009, and WFP plans to provide aid some 4 million every month until the end of March – as long as there are sufficient resources.