Hunger stalks Matabeleland as food aid struggles to cope

A frail looking baby eagerly clutched her mother’s breast and sucked. She suddenly stopped and faintly cried. Nothing. The milk has dried up.

“It very difficult to screen vulnerable people from the rest of the villagers because, for a long time, people have virtually harvested nothing.” – Councillor Mark Mashonganyika.
“It very difficult to screen vulnerable people from the rest of the villagers because, for a long time, people have virtually harvested nothing.” – Councillor Mark Mashonganyika.

“I can no longer produce more milk to feed the baby. I have not eaten anything since yesterday. I do not have anything to eat at my homestead,” said Egness Langa, a widow in Gwenyukwenyu ward in the Umguza district of Matabeleland North.

Langa, whose husband, a former farm worker, died last year after a long illness, is among scores of starving people who had thronged Libeni primary school to receive food aid from the World Food Programme, funded by the United States Agency for International Aid.

Scores of villagers in this arid area are bearing the brunt of a series of poor harvests caused by successive droughts.

“The food situation in this area is dire. Everyone needs food urgently. For the past five years, no-one has had a decent harvest and it is only this year that villagers are hoping to get something from their fields because of the current rains,” said Tembani Mpofu, one of the headmen in the area.

Mpofu said hopes for a good harvest following the heavy rains were now fading, however, because the nutrients were being washed out of the soil.

“The affected farmers cannot afford the cost of nitrogen fertiliser to reverse the effects of the incessant rains,” said Mpofu. The headman also said that most farmers were overwhelmed by weeds, and crops were stunted because of the rains.

An unemployed villager in the area, Edward Mabuya, urged the government and other aid organisations to reintroduce the food for work programme in the area.

“For the past months, my family and I have been surviving through this programme. Since it was suspended last year, I am struggling to survive. I cannot afford to buy maize meal. I am now surviving on one meal a day,” Mabuya told The Zimbabwean.

The councillor for the area, Mark Mashonganyika, said his office was inundated with starving villagers every day.

“Almost everyone in this area needs food. It very difficult to screen vulnerable people from the rest of the villagers because, for a long time, people have virtually harvested nothing,” said Mashonganyika.

Last week the World Food Programme, in conjunction with Hope for a Child in Christ, a Bulawayo based Christian non-governmental organisation, donated food, including cooking oil, beans and grain.

Speaking at a distribution site at Libeni primary school last week, US ambassador Bruce Wharton revealed that his government had maid $4m available to the programme to support people without food security.

The monthly food rations distribution programme will end in March when most people are expected to have harvested their crops. “This donation brings the US total contribution to WFP’s current relief efforts in Zimbabwe to $29m, allowing life-saving operations to continue in the 16 worst affected areas until March when the next harvest is due,” said Wharton.

The US ambassador said his country, through USAID, would continue to assist towards Zimbabwe in building sustainable food security and an economically stable country

Hunger has gripped Zimbabwe, with one quarter of the rural population – around 2.2m people – estimated to be facing food shortages between now and March.

Since October last year, WFP and its partners have been assisting starving people with food and cash distribution.

WFP country director Sory Ouane said WFP had planned to reach 1.8m people during the peak of the crisis, but lack of funding remained a challenge. The WFP and its partners had been forced to scale down the level of assistance by issuing half-rations.

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