BY FIONA CALUSTER
THE CATHOLIC Archbishop of Harare has appealed to the Zimbabwean government to put the needs of its people first as the country faces a severe food crisis.
Archbishop Robert Ndlovu predicted that even those who had managed to harvest some food would run out of supplies either this month or next. The next harvest is due in March at the earliest, by which time the United Nations predicts that one in three of the population will not have food.
The archbishop said: "I shudder to think what might happen if there is no help for those in need... There will be malnutrition and there may be some deaths but I hope we don't have to reach that point."
The drought has compounded the already disastrous economic crisis with spiralling inflation meaning that even those with jobs are finding survival a struggle.
The archbishop called upon the Zimbabwean government to respond to the needs of its people. He said: "It's time to put the people first and see whether in this difficult moment people can be helped and the welfare of the people come first."
The archbishop appealed in particular to Catholics in the government to ensure that there was help for those in need.
He continued: "I appeal to the government to make it easier to help those in need by removing all the bottlenecks that are there in delivering aid and ensure it is easier for the food to reach people."
During a previous food crisis in 2002 there were frequent reports that food aid distributions were disrupted. The Zimbabwean government strongly denied reports that food supplies were diverted to its supporters.
The archbishop said that he was hopeful of a positive outcome from mediation talks led by South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki and backed by the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
"I feel that we cannot find an economic solution without finding a political solu tion. We need to address the political situation and that will help to normalise the situation with the international community."
He added: "We need to agree on a way forward that would help us reach a position where the international community will be prepared to come back to us and extend the hand of assistance."
Cafod recently launched a £4 million appeal for Zimbabwe and is currently providing food for over 100,000 people in some of the worst-hit areas of the country. This week Caritas Internationalis issued an international appeal to member agencies to help.
Secretary General Lesley Anne Knight said: "Unless the international community fills the shortfall in food, Zimbabwe faces a humanitarian crisis.
"The Zimbabwe government must ensure this food aid gets through to the people who need it most. The government there must also ensure it puts the policies in place including political reforms, to ensure that a country which in the past was regarded as the regional breadbasket, can once more feed itself."
Among those being helped by the Cafod food distributions is 89-year-old Mlanzi who lives near Zimbabwe's second city, Bulawayo, near the Botswana border.
Following the deaths of all of her five children, Mlanzi looks after five of her grandchildren in a one-room mud hut. This year the family did not harvest anything despite planting maize and the more drought resistant crop. sorghum. So they now rely on food distributions from Cafod partner CADEC which provide maize meal — which makes the Zimbabwean staple food, sadza — beans and cooking oil.
"If I didn't get help I would just sit and wait for my death," Mlanzi told Cafod." Last year, life was hard but at least we had a harvest, This year none of my neighbours harvested anything. We planted maize and sorghum but we harvested nothing at all. I don't know what will happen to us in the future."
To donate to Cafod's appeal please call 0500 858885