EDITORIAL COMMENT: Put up mechanisms to stop food aid abuse

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Zimbabwe, like the rest of Sub-Saharan countries, has been hard hit by the drought. Many parts of the country have received below normal rains and in some areas farmers did not plant because the rains were inadequate.

Most of the maize crop in provinces such as Masvingo and Matabeleland South is a write-off and more than 1,000 cattle have succumbed to drought in Matabeleland South Province. Most families are therefore not expecting to harvest anything this cropping season. Nearly 2,5 million people are in urgent need of food aid and this represents about 26 percent of the population.

Last season was also affected by drought and many families did harvest anything hence the increased number of people in need of food aid. Government has already started importing maize from neighbouring countries such as Zambia to cover the food deficit. It has also allowed millers to import the maize in order to guarantee adequate food stocks in the country.

The feeding programme has already started in the worst affected areas such as Matabeleland region, Midlands, Masvingo and some parts of Manicaland Province. Indications are that in the next few months, all the country’s eight rural provinces will require food aid.

The government which has already declared that no one will starve despite the food deficit, will have to mobilise all the available resources to import food. It is because of this realisation that the President, Cde Robert Mugabe has declared a state of disaster to enable government to mobilise the required resources.

The Minister of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing, Cde Saviour Kasukuwere said the declaration seeks to ensure that urgent priority is given to mobilisation of resources to alleviate suffering.

The feeding programme, as already alluded to, has already started in the worst affected provinces and like in the past, there is a need to introduce food for work programme. Under the food for work programme, people work on projects to develop their areas and are paid in the form of food. This system will ensure only the needy register for food aid. The elderly, the disabled and the sick will, however, continue to receive free food.

There have been reports of abuse of food aid in different parts of the country and government structures at different levels therefore need to come up with mechanisms to address this challenge. Those involved in the distribution of food should not be allowed to take advantage of their positions to loot the food as has been reported in the Midlands and Matabeleland South provinces.

The screening exercise for the beneficiaries of food aid should be thorough and should involve all community leaders that included chiefs, headmen, village heads and councillors. The government can only prevent starving if the food aid reaches the intended beneficiaries and this calls for an efficient distribution mechanism. It is a fact that government alone might not be able to mobilise adequate resources needed to feed the whole nation hence the need for non-governmental organisations to complement government efforts.

NGOs have in the past assisted greatly in mobilising resources to feed the vulnerable groups and we call on them to do the same now. Many school pupils have over the years benefited from NGOs’ feeding programmes. What is important is for NGOs to work with government to avoid duplication of feeding programmes.

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