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25 Sep 2008 18:47
Children in Zimbabwe are eating rats and inedible roots riddled with toxic parasites to stave off hunger because of chronic food shortages, an aid agency said on Thursday.
Save the Children said the most vulnerable faced starvation unless they get food aid in the next couple of weeks.
“The rising malnutrition and the rise in diseases are going to mean that children will die and we have to act very fast,” said Sarah Jacobs, a spokesperson for the relief group.
The United Nations had said previously that more than five million people in Zimbabwe would need food aid by early next year after a poor harvest compounded by economic turmoil.
Jacobs said many people in the Zambezi Valley, the poorest and driest area, were now surviving on a vile-tasting, fibrous root called makuri.
“It’s got no nutritional value whatsoever. It tastes disgusting and it also has a parasite which attaches to it which is toxic,” said Jacobs, who has just returned from the region.
“This is all they have to eat.
You see babies eating it and toddlers eating it, and it’s not digestible.
People were eating anything to survive, she said. She had come across one child who had died after eating a poisonous root and young children eating tiny rats they caught in their huts.
Save the Children and other agencies are resuming work after Zimbabwe’s government lifted a ban on their operations at the end of August.
President Robert Mugabe imposed the ban before a run-off presidential election in June, accusing the agencies of supporting the opposition. But Save the Children said in reality many agencies had not been able to work in the field since the first election round in March.
The agency, which has launched a $9,2-million appeal for emergency operations in Zimbabwe, said the situation had got much worse in the past few months and that rampant inflation meant even people with jobs would need food aid.
“People’s ways of coping have been completely exhausted. People are saying they’re scared they’re going to die within weeks if food doesn’t come,” Jacobs said.
“We really are playing catch up. It’s a huge humanitarian job now and there has to be much more money than there has ever been before.”
Jacobs said many children had diarrhoea after eating makuri, which was particularly dangerous in a situation where there was no proper clean water or sanitation.
The lack of nutrition had also weakened people’s immune systems and left them vulnerable to illness just before the rainy season when cases of malaria and cholera increase.
There have already been suspected cases of cholera even though the disease does not usually appear until the rains arrive in October.
Save the Children said proper nutrition was particularly vital for those with HIV/Aids, which effects one in five adults in Zimbabwe.
The food crisis has also caused many children to drop out of school either because they could not afford to go, needed to work or look for food, or because their teachers could not afford the journey to work. - Reuters
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