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Red Cross Warns 9 Million Zimbabweans Could Need Food Assistance

The International Federation of the Red Cross said Wednesday that 9 million people or 75% of Zimbabwe's estimated population of 12 million could need food assistance - significantly higher than the 7 million hungry the United Nations World Food Program is targeting.

The Red Cross said Zimbabwe is now the world’s third largest food aid consumer following Afghanistan and Ethiopia.

A food security assessment now being conducted by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the Ministry of Agriculture should provide a clearer picture.

But Red Cross Operations Coordinator John Roche told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that his organization included in its need projections Zimbabweans at risk of sliding into a more critical food security situation in the months ahead.

Meanwhile, though food prices have been falling due to the increased volume of imports following Harare’s suspension of import duties on key commodities, many Zimbabweans do not have the hard currency they need to buy food on the open market.

Consumer and other sources said some prices have dropped by half in the past month.

A loaf of bread now fetches 50 U.S. cents, compared with a dollar previously. Ten kilograms of maize meal now cost US$5, a 50% decline from the previous price of US$10.

Market sources said more U.S. dollars are in circulation now that public workers are being paid a supplementary US$100 a month by the government through a voucher scheme, and banks are converting Zimbabwe dollar accounts into foreign currency accounts.

Most people only use the national currency these days to pay relatively low official fees as it is largely worthless as a unit of exchange for goods and services.

Despite anecdotal evidence of some economic stirrings, economist Naome Chakanya of the Labor and Economic Research Institute of Zimbabwe told reporter Patience Rusere that the dollarization of the Zimbabwean economy in recent months has not helped the overall economy as foreign exchange is still in short supply and most firms are struggling.

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