Massive relief operation starts in Zimbabwe

"This is the worst year I can remember," says 54-year-old Sabath, who lives in the village of Musita in the central district of Gokwe South. "We did not harvest anything – not even one bucket of maize. I have had to beg our neighbours for food."

But now – after months of increasing hunger and despair – Sabath pats the sack she is sitting on and suddenly starts to laugh. It is a laugh of joy and relief because in the sack are 50 kilograms of maize – part of her family’s monthly relief ration from WFP.

Two meals a day

"This WFP food will make a big difference because now we’ll be able to have two meals a day," says Sabath. "We also know that we will get more food next month."

Sabath is one of the very first people in Zimbabwe to benefit from WFP’s recently-launched vulnerable group feeding programme, which is targeting the most vulnerable people in rural communities worst affected by this year’s disastrous harvest.

Reports from across the country talk of families – like Sabath’s – scraping by on one meal a day or exchanging precious livestock for meagre amounts of maize or eating wild foods. Already over 2 million people need assistance and that figure is set to rise to 5.1 million – or 45 percent of the population – in early 2009.

Distributions delayed

WFP had been planning to launch its relief operation earlier in the year. However, the government’s three-month long suspension on NGO field activities delayed the first distributions until the start of October.

Tens of thousands of people – including 2,100 from around Musita – have already received life-saving rations since distributions began and WFP is hoping to reach around 1.8 million beneficiaries with emergency assistance by the end of October – and around 3.3 million at the peak of the crisis in the first three months of 2009.

But these plans depend on sufficient donations arriving in time. WFP currently faces a shortfall of over 147,000 metric tons of food – and needs another US$140 million to funds its operations over the next six months. Without extra resources, WFP will run out of supplies in January – just as needs are peaking.

And the people of Musita know what any interruption in supplies will mean – increased hunger, more desperate survival measures and maybe something much much worse.

"We cannot cope without this food," says 55-year-old Edith Hlambo, who has struggled to provide her family of eight with even one meal per day in the last few awful months. "Some of us might even die if this food stops for long."

Contact us

Richard Lee, WFP/Johannesburg,
Tel +27-11-517-1536,
Cell. +27-82-908-1446
Caroline Hurford,
Tel. +44-20-72409001,
Cell. +44-7968-008474
Jennifer Parmelee,
Tel. +1-202-6530010 ext. 1149,
Cell. +1-202-4223383

Bettina Luescher,
WFP/New York,
Tel. +1-212-9635196,
Cell. +1-646-8241112,