Zimbabwean villagers reel under food shortages

Chipo Mapako, a village head in the eastern Zimbabwean district of Nyanga, does not remember when he last had a square meal.

The 56-year-old father of seven squints up at the sky, then holds his chin and shakes his head when asked when he last had a proper repast.

”The daily struggle for us is to find enough food to stave off hunger,” says Mapako, who heads a village of at least 300 people in the district renowned as much for its picturesque mountain ranges as for its dry, stony fields. ”Getting sufficient food is hard enough and who would think about nutrients?”

Nine-year-old Takudzwa Tazvitya, a fourth-grade pupil, eats a handful of roasted peanuts and a cup of milkless tea for breakfast before starting off barefoot on a 7km trek to school.

After class the boy, who wants to become a police officer, joins a queue in a makeshift soup kitchen at Tamunesa Primary School where hungry pupils carrying battered bowls and greasy plastic plates receive fortified porridge.

The gruel contains ”all the nutrients they miss in the meals at home”, according to an official from the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).

Starvation

Mapako and Takudzwa are among thousands of villagers in the Nyanga district near Zimbabwe’s border with Mozambique, living on the verge of starvation and relying on monthly food rations from the WFP.

”We usually have two small meals — one during the day and one before we go to bed — but the situation is so bad we go to bed on a meal of boiled vegetables,” says Venenzia Mwendazviya, a 26-year-old mother of three. ”We crush peanuts to squeeze out cooking oil, but we often run out of the peanuts and just eat boiled vegetables.”

Goodson Murinye, head of the WFP office in the eastern city of Mutare, says the district is in the red category — the most vulnerable — according to a study done late last year by a committee of state welfare officers and aid agencies.

”At least 42% of the population is food insecure with the highest malnutrition rate in the province,” Murinye said at a food-distribution centre where villagers lined up to receive their monthly handouts of 10kg of corn-meal.

The district also ranks third in the country in HIV/Aids prevalence, according to the WFP.

The UN food agency and partners, such as the Irish food aid agencies Concern and Goal, are feeding 1 700 people, with the number of beneficiaries expected to swell to 74 956 by month-end, Murinye said.

School head Clifford Kanengoni said the food hand-outs help reduce absenteeism among pupils at his school. ”The pupils are more alert and look healthier,” he said. ”Teaching them is more fun.”

Food shortages

Zimbabwe is reeling under severe food shortages with at least 4,3-million in need of food aid until the next harvests in May.

Michael Huggins, WFP spokesperson for Southern Africa, says the UN agency is feeding 4,3-million people in Zimbabwe and that the situation is so ”critical” that thousands will continue to require food aid for the coming year.

Beneficiaries of the WFP’s food aid include three million on food-distribution programmes, people with HIV/Aids, schoolchildren, and pregnant and lactating mothers, Huggins says.

The government blames the food deficit on a drought that ravaged the bulk of southern Africa two years ago.

But Huggins says the shortages are a result of a battery of factors, including the failure by the economy to attract investment in infrastructure, chronic poverty and the country’s controversial reforms.

Zimbabwe’s land reforms, which began often violently in 2000 after the rejection in a referendum on a government-sponsored draft Constitution, have seen about 4 000 white farmers lose their properties.

Critics say the majority of the beneficiaries of the land reforms lack farming skills and rely on government handouts. They also blame the land reforms for the chronic food shortages in what was once Southern Africa’s bread basket.

”And you can’t discount the fact that 20% of the population is HIV-positive,” Huggins says. ”That means that nearly 20% of the population is not able to work.”

Huggins says although President Robert Mugabe declared last year that his country would not need food aid from foreign donors, ”we were still feeding more than a million of people for most of last year”. — Sapa-AFP

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Fanuel Jongwe
AFP Journalist.

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