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Southern African Food Aid Advances With $52 Million US Donation

The World Food Program said Monday that a U.S. donation of $51.8 million to fund food assistance for Southern Africa will enable it to accelerate its efforts and deliver aid to the region before December when the seasonal pinch of hunger worsens.

“It can take up to four months to get food to the most vulnerable, and as we are seeing in West Africa, the world cannot afford to wait until the last minute to pledge support,” a WFP statement quoted executive director James Morris as saying. Mr. Morris was referring to Niger, where relief was slow to reach a famine-stricken region.

The WFP statement closely followed a visit by a senior U.S. diplomat to Zimbabwe to assess the situation there in the wake of the government’s demolition of thousands of homes in an urban “cleanup.” Ambassador Tony Hall, U.S. representative to WFP’s Rome headquarters, said he was denied access to a location named Hopely Farm outside Harare where some of those displaced by the operation are iving.

He expressed doubt as to Harare’s commitment to facilitating food assistance.

WFP Spokesman Mike Huggins told reporter Patience Rusere of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the $52 million U.S. donation would buy something close to 74,000 metric tons of maize for the region, much of that going to Zimbabwe, where the U.N. food organization estimates around 4 million people are facing hunger.

Elsewhere, the government of President Robert Mugabe appeared to be actively obstructing a food shipment assembled by the South African Council of Churches. Two trucks carrying 37 metric tons of maize and other staple foods were held up in Johannesburg while relief sponsors sought certification – demanded by Harare – that the maize had not been genetically modified, and met more delays at the border.

A third truck carrying 6,000 blankets provided by the South African church group was cleared through the Beit Bridge border crossing and was last reported on its way to Bindura, in the eastern Zimbabwean province of Mashonaland Central.

Reporter Jonga Kandemiiri of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe spoke with Zimbabwe Council of Churches President Peter Namapare about the expected relief.

Earlier, reporter Blessing Zulu asked South African Council of Churches Secretary General Eddie Makue about the delays caused by Harare red tape.

In Harare itself, tight supplies of staple foods caused tempers to fray. Residents said police assaulted them as they waited in line at a supermarket to buy sugar, a rare commodity in the country these days along with corn meal and cooking oil.

Several sources told VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe they were harassed by policemen wielding batons as they lined up outside a food store in the central business district.

This followed reports that Zimbabwe may be obliged to import sugar following a sharp decline in domestic production in the southeastern Lowveld region.

Studio 7 correspondent Thomas Chiripasi reported on the food store fracas.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...