Last week, we reported that the bulk of the maize crop for the 2015/16 farming season has become a write-off, and that an unprecedented food crisis was imminent.
Although government had earlier highlighted that about one million people would require food aid, it has revised its own estimates and now predicts that at least three million people will require food assistance to avert starvation.
Critics still insist that the new official figures are a gross misjudgment of the reality on the ground — as many as five million people may require food assistance in the ensuing months due to poor harvests caused by inadequate rainfall.
This is a very critical and desperate situation, coming as it does against the backdrop of an intensifying liquidity crunch and mounting budgetary pressures on a government now desperately scouring financial markets to raise cash for outstanding civil servants bonuses.
The gravity of the situation therefore calls for concerted efforts to ensure that vulnerable people are given food assistance as soon as possible. In one of our editorial comments in January, we said: “It is disheartening to note that even in the face of glaring evidence that the situation is worsening, government has not yet declared a state of emergency to prompt an international rally to alleviate a food security crisis.”
Our concern was predicated upon the fact that better-resourced South Africa, with the wherewithal to intervene and save its own people, had started declaring state of emergencies in several of its provinces by November last year.
We therefore felt it was imperative that an international call for support should have been made long back as a matter of urgency. Efforts by donors then were only voluntary and unsolicited.
We are gratified by the fact that President Robert Mugabe and his Cabinet have started moving towards addressing the situation after declaring the farming season a national disaster and appealing to the international community for assistance to feed over three million people.
That, complemented by the efforts of donors, will go a long way towards ameliorating the plight of villagers on the brink of starvation.
The United Nations has said more than US$76 million had been raised from partners for food assistance.
But the challenge is great: About US$1,5 billion is required to feed starving people until the next farming season.
We reiterate the point we made in January that our government is broke and has no capacity to fund imports to save the number of people likely to starve as a result of the current drought.
But it will not only have to do something, but should be seen to be doing something to ensure that it is with its people in this difficult period.
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