Zimbabwe's hunger crisis is nearing a peak in this neighbouring country as millions of people see their food from last year's harvest run out months before the next crop will come in, according to the British aid agency Oxfam said Thursday.
In addition to a looming famine, Zimbabwe is also suffering a severe cholera epidemic that has sent thousands of Zimbabweans crossing borders to seek assistance in South Africa and other neighbouring countries.
The situation could rapidly worsen as aid agencies are forced to cut rations this month due to funding shortfalls, the charity said in a statement.
"Vulnerable households are set to receive smaller food rations this month because of funding shortfalls. Further cuts are also expected next month," Oxfam said.
In addition to the five million Zimbabweans relying on food handouts, another one million hungry people who should be benefiting from food aid this month may not receive any rations at all because of insufficient funding.
Donations not enough
Despite recent donations, the UN's World Food Programme still faces a shortfall of around 65 million dollars (more than R660 million) for its operations in Zimbabwe until the end of March, Oxfam said.
"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," said Peter Mutoredzanwa, Oxfam's country director in Zimbabwe.
More than 2 100 people have died since a cholera epidemic erupted in August, while more than 1.3 million people are living with HIV, according to UN data.
"I've met people who've gone for days without meals. Others told me they were eating wild fruit or vegetables," said Mutoredzanwa, who urged rich nations to increase their aid to the UN emergency appeal for Zimbabwe.
This year's harvest could be worse than last year's, meaning the food shortages would continue into 2010, he added.
Selling assets for food
A recent WFP survey found that more than 70% of households sold their assets, including livestock and valuables, in order to buy food, the Oxfam statement said.
"The study also revealed that 12% of households reported not having eaten any food in the previous day," it added.
Zimbabwe has a shortage of seeds and fertilisers, and most farmers can't afford to buy farm supplies, which are now only sold in foreign currencies.
Once seen as a post-colonial role model, Zimbabwe's economy has been in a downward spiral since the turn of the decade when thousands of white-owned farms began being seized under a controversial land reform programme.
Food production has since plummeted and inflation has skyrocketed, hitting 231 million percent in July, when the last official data was released in August. – (Sapa)
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