12 July 2010

Zimbabwe: Food Violence Blamed for Child Malnourishment

ZANU PF supporters are continuing to withhold food aid donations from hungry villagers who refuse to join the party, at a time when a third of children under five in the country have been officially declared as malnourished.

This is according to the civic group, the Zimbabwe Peace Project, which says that hungry villagers are still being told to first join ZANU PF first if they want to receive food donated by food agencies.

This means many families and their children are forced to go hungry, and are being denied necessary food aid from non-government organisations (NGOs) simply because they don't support Robert Mugabe's party.

Despite government claims of addressing the issue of starvation, the food crisis in Zimbabwe is worsening, with a new survey showing the situation is still dire.

The United Nations Food and Nutrition Council (FNC) on Friday detailed in a report that malnutrition is worsening and there are plummeting breastfeeding rates. Over a third of Zimbabwe's children under the age of five are chronically malnourished and this is causing them to be stunted or to have short height for their age.

Commenting on the findings, Katherine Manasei of the National NGO Food Security Network, a collection of organisations which work in food aid relief and monitoring in the country, said in such cases where food aid is being withheld for political reasons the children suffer.

Speaking at the launch of the FNC survey, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said the government wants to address the problem of malnutrition; however the root problem lies with the political and economic issues.

"Malnutrition is not a simple problem that can be addressed effectively through narrow technical solutions as it results from the complex interplay of social, political, cultural and economic factors," he said.

Manasei's comments are in line with Tsvangirai's that malnutrition is tied to the political problems the country is facing.

When asked what was causing the malnutrition, she also said: "We are going through a transition. One of the major problems we are facing is electricity shortages which are hampering production in the agricultural sector. We've got renewed farm invasions that are taking place. That greatly affects the agricultural sector in the country."

The ZPP reports that, among others, a senior civil servant from Nkayi has been accused of removing beneficiaries from the MDC, from a list of registered recipients for food aid.

Cases of politicisation of food aid and discrimination are still being recorded across the country with widespread incidents of beneficiaries being asked to produced party cards and denounce their political parties before one can qualify to get food aid.

It claims that the problem is widespread, with 218 such cases occurring in Masvingo, Manicaland and Mashonaland Central. The food comes mainly from NGOs as well as religious groups, and the problems arise where the distribution is mainly manned by biased chiefs and senior government workers.

There is concern that despite over 10,000 such violations being reported, there have been no investigations or efforts to try to stop the abuse.

The food discrimination and harassment issue is also affecting those who have problems with health. In one incident an HIV-positive man was denied food aid which was being distributed by the Farm Community Trust in Mazowe South on the grounds that he supported the MDC.

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