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Zimbabweans face grim hunger season

By Oxfam

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HARARE — Zimbabwe has entered its peak hunger period with more than half the population now dependent on food aid, said international agency Oxfam today. The agency warned that the situation could rapidly worsen as vulnerable households are set to receive smaller food rations this month because of funding shortfalls. Further cuts are also expected next month.

In addition to the five million Zimbabweans relying on food handouts, around one million hungry people who would benefit from receiving food aid this month may not receive any at all because of insufficient funding.

Despite recent donations, the UN World Food Program still faces a shortfall of around $65 million for its operations in Zimbabwe until the end of March.

?We urge rich governments around the world to increase their aid to the UN emergency food appeal so that people won?t have to go without meals,? said Peter Mutoredzanwa, Oxfam?s country Director in Zimbabwe. ?Peoples? lives are in danger because of the lack of food. They are severely weakened and therefore less able to deal with cholera, which has spread across the country, or fight HIV/AIDS.

?I?ve met people who?ve gone for days without meals,? said Mutoredzanwa. ?Others told me they were eating wild fruit or vegetables. In cholera treatment centers, patients weren?t receiving any regular food either from health officials or their families, slowing their ability to recover quickly.

?The likelihood is that this year?s harvest will be even worse than last year?s and that food shortages could continue into 2010. As well as dealing with immediate needs, aid donors have to look at longer-term inputs to help farmers and prevent future food emergencies and food insecurity. This can be done through providing seeds for winter cropping, helping farmers to access fertilizers, and investing more in agriculture,? said Mutoredzanwa.

This week, Oxfam began distributing its monthly food aid to vulnerable families, working with the UN World Food Program. Oxfam is helping to feed more than 253,000 people in three districts of Midlands province, in central Zimbabwe, some of the most food insecure areas in the country.

People are set to receive rations this month of 10kgs of cereal and 1kgs of pulses—down from October levels of 12kgs of cereal and 1.28 kgs of pulses. Rations of cooking oil have been cut from last month?s figure of 0.6 liters to just 0.45 liters and there will be no distributions of corn soya beans. In addition, the numbers receiving food aid will be capped to a maximum of six people per household.

Desperate families have begun selling household assets and livestock to purchase basic food staples. A recent survey by the WFP found that nearly one in five households—including those receiving food aid—had sold assets in the past three months and that more than seventy per cent of households did so in order to buy food. Without livestock and valuables, families are even more vulnerable to future crises.

The study also revealed that 12% of households reported not having eaten any food in the previous day.

Zimbabwe has a shortage of seeds and fertilizers and most farmers can?t afford to buy agricultural inputs which are now only sold in foreign, rather than Zimbabwean currency.

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