African food crisis spurs U.N. debate on Zimbabwe


  • World
  • Friday, 01 Jul 2005

By Evelyn Leopold

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States and European nations raised Zimbabwe's housing demolitions in the Security Council for the first time on Thursday, using a debate on extreme hunger in southern Africa as an means of getting the issue on the agenda. 

But diplomats said most Council members were resisting discussion, saying the Zimbabwe crisis is internal and not an international peace and security issue. And African leaders have rejected Western condemnation of the forced eviction of slum dwellers from urban areas. 

"Up to 300,000 people have been made homeless and thousands of children are forced to abandon school," said Britain's U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry. "It is important to realize that this crisis has been caused by the action of the Zimbabwean government. It is man-made and not a natural phenomenon." 

Anne Patterson, the acting U.S. Ambassador, estimated 420,000 people were homeless, many of them children. 

"We stand ready to assist Zimbabwe with large-scale food assistance, as we did in 2002-2004, but we strongly oppose government policies that are making the problem worse, and we urge the government to end the slum demolition campaign," Patterson said. 

"Zimbabwe's self-inflicted economic meltdown affects trade, investment and food security throughout southern Africa." 

Denmark and Greece were also critical of Zimbabwe and France voiced concern only about the food situation. 

But Tanzania's deputy U.N. ambassador, Tuvako Nathaniel Manogi, said too many people were shedding "crocodile years" as he had watched repeated pleas for food assistance go unheeded in his country, which is flooded with refugees. 

Worldwide food aid was also declining to the poorest of the poor nations even though the number of hungry people was increasing. "The archives of this organization are full of good intentions. We are all better at talking than acting," he said. 

BIGGEST CRISIS IN SOUTHERN AFRICA 

James Morris, the executive director of the U.N. World Food Program told the Council that "the greatest humanitarian crisis we face today" was not in Darfur, Afghanistan or North Korea but the disintegration of the social structures in southern Africa and accompanying hunger. 

"A lethal mix of AIDS, recurring drought and failing governance is eroding social and political stability," he said, "Life expectancy in much of southern Africa is barely more than it was in Europe during the Middle Ages." 

The number of people needing food aid in southern Africa soared from 3.5 million people at the beginning of the year to 8.3 million today because of the reoccurring drought. 

Morris, a former businessman from India, said 4 million Zimbabweans urgently needed food and the country intended to import 1.2 million metric tons of cereal grains, most of the 1.8 tons it needs. 

He said he expected the harvest in Zimbabwe to yield 400,000 to 600,000 tons (tonnes) and said WFP would contribute 300,000 tons. 

But Morris said he had made clear to President Robert Mugabe that WFP and its partners would not accept restrictions. "I have to say we have been able to do our work," he said. 

"Our job is to feed the hungry and the at-risk population," he said. "We leave the political issues for others to resolve." 

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