Herald Reporter
THE United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) yesterday announced that it would this year — for the first time ever —not suspend food aid in March but continue to assist vulnerable Zimbabweans until next year.

In a statement released yesterday, WFP said it had suspended the “period of bounty” and will continue offering food aid for the rest of the year into next year.

Traditionally, food aid elapses between April and September — the period of bounty — since after harvest, farmers usually have food in abundance.

The assurance comes after Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Prisca Mupfumira told The Herald on Monday that the number of people in need of food aid had ballooned from about 2,8 million to 4 million as donors would at the end of this month hand over millions of people they were feeding to Government’s food deficit mitigation programme.

She said although social partners’ lean season would end this month, Government was in the process of importing grain to ensure no one starves.

However, the world’s largest humanitarian organisation yesterday allayed fears that is was winding up its operations saying it was instead extending its relief to mitigate against drought caused by the El Niño effect.

“Vulnerable people in Zimbabwe will continue to receive relief assistance from the United Nations’ World Food Programme through what is usually a period of bounty but which this year has turned into a time of want. WFP is extending its relief programme due to the punishing impact of El Niño on the food security of the country.

“WFP’s seasonal relief, designed to help vulnerable people through the difficult pre-harvest months, usually runs from October to March. This year — for the first time ever — the programme will continue running throughout the year and into next year,” WFP said in a statement, adding that the move was in response to the Vulnerability Assessment report.

“The unprecedented decision is in response to last month’s announcement by the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee that 2.8 million people – more than a quarter of the rural population – do not have enough to eat and have little or no guaranteed access to food. WFP is this month providing food and cash-based assistance to some 730 000 vulnerable people. Operations are being scaled up to reach an estimated 2,2 million people in the early months of next year, with the Government and development partners assisting the rest.”

To provide assistance until March 2017, WFP estimates that $220 million in funding will be required.

Next month’s harvest is predicted to be poor in many countries including Zimbabwe. Geoglam (the Global Agricultural Monitoring Initiative) forecasts that the April/May maize harvest in southern and eastern parts of the country will be a “failure”.

WFP country director in Zimbabwe Mr Eddie Rowe said: “Many rural communities are in the grip of hunger and this is set to continue into next year. We’re working with the government and donors to mobilize assistance to the most vulnerable but to reach all those in need we are dependent on the donor community continuing to fund our operations.”

WFP provides both food and cash, depending on market conditions with more than 500 000 people currently receiving cash transfers or a combination of cash and food from WFP.

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