by Tichaona Chifamba
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said Wednesday it will for the first time ever, extend its food relief program in Zimbabwe into next year in response to the dire food security situation due to a devastating El-Nino induced drought.
WFP’s seasonal relief, designed to help vulnerable people through the difficult pre-harvest months, usually runs from October to March.
“This year – for the first time ever – the programme will continue running throughout the year and into next year,” it said.
The WFP said the unprecedented decision was in response to last month’s announcement by the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVAC) that 2.8 million people – more than a quarter of the rural population – do not have enough to eat and have little or no guaranteed access to food.
The Zimbabwe government said this week the number of people in need of food aid had risen to four million people form the initial three million.
Public Service, Labor and Social Welfare Minister Prisca Mupfumira revealed that the government has 91,000 tons of maize in strategic reserve, only to last three months.
The WFP said it will this month provide food and cash–based assistance to some 730,000 vulnerable people.
Operations were also being scaled up to reach an estimated 2.2 million people in the early months of next year, with the government and development partners assisting the rest, it said.
“Many rural communities are in the grip of hunger and this is set to continue into next year,” said Eddie Rowe, WFP Country Director in Zimbabwe.
Rowe said the UN agency was working with the government and donors to mobilize assistance to the most vulnerable.
The WFP said Zimbabwe’s high level of food insecurity is due to last year’s bad harvest – 50 percent down on that of the previous year – combined with an unusually strong El Niño weather event which has resulted in reduced rains for southern Africa.
Coinciding as it has with the main part of the growing season, El Niño-related drought has been disastrous for smallholder farmers dependent on rain-fed agriculture.
The drought has also killed thousands of livestock in the country.
The Zimbabwe government last month declared the drought a state of disaster and has appealed for 1.6 billion U.S. dollars to buy grain to feed the affected people.
The United Nations Children’s Fund said Tuesday this week malnutrition was on the rise in Zimbabwe which it said was facing its worst malnutrition rates in 15 years as 2.1 percent of children under five years have severe acute malnutrition, slightly higher than the international threshold of 2 percent required for an emergency response. Enditem