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11/30/02 - MASS STARVATION LOOMS IN ZIMBABWE - 2002-12-02


The food catastrophe in Zimbabwe continues to worsen. Almost seven-million Zimbabweans, half the population, are in danger of starvation in the coming weeks and months. This results directly from the policies and actions of the government of Robert Mugabe. Through its violent and often unlawful campaign of land seizures, it has largely destroyed Zimbabwe's once-dynamic agricultural sector.

Much of the farmland has been redistributed to ruling party supporters who lack both the will and the resources to keep the land productive. Over one and a half million Zimbabweans who worked and lived on these farms have been forced to abandon their homes, livelihoods, and hopes for the future. The destruction of the commercial farming sector in Zimbabwe has exacerbated the broader humanitarian crisis arising from drought, H-I-V/AIDS, and ill-advised economic policies.

The effects of food shortages are already apparent. Those weakened by the H-I-V virus and food shortages are already growing too weak to tend to themselves or their families. Throughout Zimbabwe, once-productive citizens now spend their days looking for food and waiting in lines to buy increasingly scarce staples. Underfed children fall asleep in school or drop out altogether to search for food. The food crisis is decimating Zimbabwe's capacity to reclaim a stable and prosperous future for its people.

Making matters worse, the Mugabe regime continues to manipulate the availability of food to achieve cynical political ends. In some areas, Zimbabweans are forced to show that they are supporters of Mugabe's Zanu-PF party before being allowed to purchase food. A Danish group, Physicians for Human Rights, has verified numerous reports that the Mugabe government is deliberately withholding food from opposition supporters, interfering with the distribution of international aid, and prolonging the grain shortage to protect its hold on power.

Despite grave concerns over the actions of the Mugabe government, the United States will continue to provide assistance to the Zimbabwean people. The U.S. has sent over two-hundred-thousand metric tons of food to date and has provided almost three-million dollars in humanitarian assistance. But these efforts will not be enough if the Mugabe government continues its destructive policies.

The U.S. once again calls on the government of Robert Mugabe to halt its assault on the people and democratic institutions of Zimbabwe and appeals to regional leaders to hold the government responsible for respecting the human rights and civil liberties of the Zimbabwean people.

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