U.N. agency says 2.2 million Zimbabweans face food shortages

HARARE Tue Sep 3, 2013 6:39am EDT

Zimbabwean villagers collect their monthly rations of food aid from Rutaura Primary School in the Rushinga district of Mt Darwin about 254km north of Harare March 7, 2013. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

Zimbabwean villagers collect their monthly rations of food aid from Rutaura Primary School in the Rushinga district of Mt Darwin about 254km north of Harare March 7, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo

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HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe faces its worst food shortages in four years following a drought and poor harvest, the U.N. World Food Programme said on Tuesday, a month after veteran President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF disputed re-election.

The agency said it was working with the government and other international aid organizations to provide food assistance to about a fifth of Zimbabwe's 13 million people from October until the next crop harvest in March/April 2014.

"Hunger is on the rise in Zimbabwe with an estimated 2.2 million people - one in four of the rural population - expected to need food assistance during the pre-harvest period early next year," it said in a statement.

That is the highest number of Zimbabweans requiring food assistance since early 2009, when more than half the population relied on such aid.

That was the peak of a decade-long economic crisis critics blame on Mugabe's policies, notably his government's seizure of white-owned commercial farms for redistribution to landless blacks.

Mugabe, 89 and Zimbabwe's ruler since independence from Britain in 1980, maintains he was correcting ownership imbalances created by colonialism.

The latest food shortages were due to bad weather, high seed and fertilizer costs and projections that food prices will climb because of the poor maize harvest.

Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party, who were declared overwhelming winners in a July 31 election rejected as a fraud by his main rival Morgan Tsvangirai, have promised food imports and said no Zimbabwean would die from hunger.

(Reporting by Cris Chinaka; Editing by Ed Stoddard and Alison Williams)

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