The number of Zimbabweans needing urgent food aid has spiked to almost a quarter of the population, according to the World Food Program (WFP), as drought ravages the southern African country.
The WFP Zimbabwe director, Eddie Crowe, said more people than the originally estimated 1.5 million actually need food aid, as a result of the devastating impact of El Nino, which has severely reduced crop production.
“"What we are seeing is perhaps a doubling of this estimated 1.5 million at this point in time as I speak,” Crowe told the Associated Press. “Because the impact of El Nino with very, very, very erratic rainfalls, in some areas lack of rains for weeks and the agronomists are telling us that the cutoff point, if at all for any possibility of harvest was mid-January."
Zimbabwe Minister of Public Service, Labor and Social Welfare, Prisca Mupfumira, has appealed for assistance from what she termed “friendly international donors” to defer hunger in the country. The request is in reference to ongoing tensions between Zimbabwe and many Western countries, which President Robert Mugabe has accused of using aid as a means to effect regime change.
“Our main challenge is to ensure that the importation program is on course to make sure that we don't run short of grain,” Mupfumira said. “So we need friendly or concerned donors to support the importation program."
Video captured by AP of the impact of El Nino in Gutu District in Masvingo Province shows large areas of wilted maize fields, and emaciated donkeys. Deep cracks on barren land are another side of the severity of the situation.
Minister Mupfumira said the impact of the El Nino and the food shortages it causes, could persist through the year 2017.
"At the moment we have about 160,000 tons (of maize) and at the reviewed assessment we might need 25,0000 (metric) tons to feed the vulnerables per month, which means we need more. We need about 700,000 (metric) tons to be imported."
About 70 percent of Zimbabweans rely on agriculture and a lean season means most have lost their only source of employment.
The drought has also affected South Africa and Zambia.