At least 1.4 million people in Masvingo province could need food assistance from next month when their food reserves run out, the Daily News has established.
Masvingo provincial administrator, Alphonse Chikurira said 600 000 villagers mostly from Chivi, Mwenezi and Chiredzi districts were already in urgent need of food aid.
He said another 800 000 people in the drought prone Masvingo province would need relief food by the end of next month, bringing the total of food-insecure people in the province to 1.4 million.
He said although maize supplied to the Grain Marketing Board was insufficient, some of it was now being moved to district depots to avert the crisis.
"We are doing all we can to make sure that people get food. Most villagers in Chivi, Mwenezi and Chiredzi are currently surviving on the government's public works programme," Chikurira said.
He added that some rural district councils that administer the public works programme had run out of money, but the government had since chipped in with an injection of funds to feed the starving villagers.
Masvingo province received $880 million from the government last week to feed thousands of hungry villagers under the public works programme.
From the funds received by the province, the largest allocation of $141 million went to Gutu district to feed 71 000 villagers. Bikita, Mwenezi, Chivi, Zaka and Chiredzi districts also received allocations, while urban areas such as Chiredzi and Masvingo were given $130 000 each.
Worsening food insecurity in the province is the result of severe drought that affected most parts of the province in the last farming season, and of a controversial government land reform programme that has cut agricultural output by more than half in the past three years.
Several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that have been providing humanitarian assistance in the province have scaled down their operations because of slightly larger harvests this year.
However, although many households harvested more than they did in 2002, the harvests are not enough to meet their needs.
An official with a local NGO yesterday said the humanitarian agency was presently providing food aid to the terminally ill, the elderly and AIDS orphans.
"After carefully examining the situation, we may consider resuming some of the abandoned programmes," the official said.
Officials with humanitarian agencies, however, said a directive from the government last week for NGOs to leave all food aid distribution to the government would adversely affect humanitarian operations.
The government has appealed for about 700 000 tonnes of food to feed 5.5 million food-insecure people, but international donors are reluctant to provide food that will be distributed by the state, which is accused of denying aid to supporters of the opposition.