JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – Some rural Zimbabweans facing one of the hungriest years they could remember have been forced to live on a meal a day and in some cases only on wild fruits, the U.N. food aid agency said Thursday.
The World Food Program appealed for donations to help fight hunger in Zimbabwe, straining as an economic collapse, years of food scarcity, AIDS and poor weather have combined to put it in a category all its own in a poor region.
“Zimbabwe is the only one that is facing a national crisis,” agency spokesman Richard Lee said.
The economic collapse, with inflation of at least 231 million percent, has put seeds, fertilizer and farming equipment out of the reach of many Zimbabweans. AIDS has devastated the farming work force. Weather has been a factor, with either too much rain in some areas and too little in others.
Aid agencies were blocked for months from doing their work by President Robert Mugabe’s government. The ban was lifted in August, but it took weeks for agencies to start work again. In one of the first distributions since the ban was lifted, aid workers over the weekend handed out dried corn, vegetable oil and other aid.
The U.N. estimates 45 percent of Zimbabwe’s population, or 5.1 million people, will need food help by early 2009. The food agency said its stocks would run out in January – “at the very peak of the crisis” – if it did not get more help from donors.
The agency said it has received almost $175 million this year for Zimbabwe, but needs more to fund emergency operations through April. The agency’s main donors for Zimbabwe include the United States and Britain.