Nearly 7 million Zimbabweans need food aid: WFP

Thu Jan 29, 2009 12:06pm GMT

By Nelson Banya

HARARE (Reuters) - More than half of Zimbabwe's population, suffering under a severe economic and political crisis, will need food aid in February and March, the World Food Programme said on Thursday.

The WFP said in a statement that it aims to assist 5.1 million people in February while a group of U.S.-sponsored aid organisations plans to assist 1.8 million more people in the southern African country.

"The overall total for people in need of assistance in February and March is around 7 million," the WFP said.

Zimbabwe's economic meltdown has been worsened by a cholera outbreak which has killed nearly 3,100 people and infected 58,993 across the country -- the worst death toll in Africa from an outbreak of the normally preventable disease in 15 years.

A power-sharing agreement reached in September between Zimbabwe's political rivals, seen as a chance to ease the humanitarian crisis and save the faltering economy, has yet to be implemented.

The United Nations said on Thursday unemployment was 94 percent. Food and fuel are in short supply. The last official inflation rate, for July 2008, was 231 million percent.

"World record hyperinflation and a collapsing banking system pose major challenges to humanitarian operations, with most agencies affected by the lack of cash and inability to access foreign currency," the United Nations said in an appeal for $550 million in aid.

Regional leaders decided at a summit on Tuesday that a unity government should be formed next month.   Continued...

<p>A boy carries a tin of cooking oil from a food aid distribution centre in Chirumanzi, 250 km (155 miles) southeast of Harare, Zimbabwe, January 15, 2009. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo</p>
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