In any food relief program, not all people in need will receive aid. Because resources are limited, a line will always have to be drawn. Relief agencies must determine who will receive aid and how much and what kind of aid they will receive. The difference between a fair and an unfair or politicized relief program is the criteria that are used to make these decisions. International relief agencies have determined that the guiding principle behind relief must be need and they have established guidelines to guarantee fair delivery of food.1 For instance, the European Union’s principles state that aid is provided in Zimbabwe “on the basis of priority of human need alone and without conditionality.” Management and distribution are “based purely on criteria of need and not on partisan grounds,” and transparency is a “key component of all processes.”2 The WFP also targets beneficiaries based on need.
- In accordance with the Zimbabwe Constitution, the government should permit all people to buy GMB maize at set prices without reference to their race, religion, ethnicity, regional origin or residence, sex, or political affiliation. The government should instruct authorities in charge of beneficiary and distribution lists to abide by the principle of non-discrimination. Special effort should be made to ensure access to highly vulnerable populations, such as women head of households, children, and those affected by HIV/AIDS.
- The government should impress upon the leadership of all political parties that it is prohibited for politicians and party supporters to use food to influence or reward constituents or voters. Punitive action should be taken against those who flout this regulation.
- Neither the security forces nor the youth militia should oversee the food distribution process. Civilian authorities should oversee the deployment and conduct of the police and other security forces, limiting their involvement to quelling disturbances and responding to public complaints of illegal food distribution activity. In all cases, the police and the security forces should act in accordance with international humanitarian and human rights law.
- The Zimbabwe government should make serious efforts to end corruption at all levels of the food importation and distribution process, to follow the tendering procedures outlined by government regulations, and to police the importation of food, ensuring that all grain purchased externally is delivered to Zimbabwe.
- The government should enhance monitoring of all aspects of the food distribution process. It should track the level of food-insecurity in all communities and monitor the domestic food chain to ensure that GMB grain brought into the country reaches GMB depots, millers, local authorities, and the population without being diverted illegally into the black market. The findings on these and other food-related issues should be published regularly and made available to the general public.
- The government should take steps to improve access to and the availability of food. Private entrepreneurs and other organizations should be permitted to import and sell grain, with donor support. Grain milling and flour and bread production should be opened up to all millers and bakers regardless of their political affiliation. And, the government’s public works program, cash-for-work, should be opened to all people in need, regardless of their political affiliation or views.
- Relevant departments and bodies within the Zimbabwe government should cooperate and collaborate more fully with the international aid regime to improve its ability to ensure that food is accurately directed to and reaches populations in need. These departments include the Ministry of Finance’s Food and Security Council, the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture and Resettlement, the Grain Marketing Board, the Grain Distribution Task Force, the National Early Warning Unit, the Drought Management Committee, the Provincial and District Drought Relief Committees and Logistics Committees, and the Civil Protection Unit
- The Zimbabwe government should fully support the current United Nations-led effort to create and implement a new set of humanitarian principles to govern current and future feeding programs. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) convened, in April 2003, a workshop to develop a system of checks and balances that would improve coordination and cooperation between the Zimbabwe government and donors. The participants – representatives from the Zimbabwe government, the UN, bilateral donors, and national and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) – drafted a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The Zimbabwe government should immediately adopt and begin implementation of this MOU.
- The United Nations and major international food aid donors, such as the United States (U.S.) and the European Union (E.U.), should continue to fight politicization of food in Zimbabwe through its efforts to maintain tight controls on food distribution and to implement all aspects of relief efforts directly or through local NGOs. Under no circumstances should international relief efforts be carried out through government channels.
- The donor community, especially the U.S., the E.U., and the United Kingdom (U.K.), which provide the bulk of Zimbabwe’s food aid, should not condition aid on any factor other than need. In particular, farmers who were resettled under the fast-track land reform program should be made eligible to receive food aid from all international sources. Donors that have withdrawn support for humanitarian programs in Zimbabwe should reconsider their duty, under international law, to assist those in need.
- International relief efforts should be highly coordinated to prevent severe humanitarian repercussions when one of the implementing agency’s programs is disrupted by elements attempting to use relief food for political ends.
- The WFP should increase efforts to assist populations currently excluded from food aid, including large groups such as those living in urban areas and in the ex-commercial farming districts; and smaller groups, such as those who are unable to purchase GMB grain because distributors intentionally exclude them.
- The international community should mobilize resources to supervise and train those responsible for registering beneficiaries. Politicization and discrimination occurs most pervasively during the registration process.
- WFP workers, NGO staff, and local authorities involved in the food relief program should re-emphasize the principle of non-discrimination by talking to communities, local leadership, district and provincial authorities, party members and leaders, and any others involved in the food relief program. These agencies and authorities should help to train distributors as well as those responsible for registration. In particular, local NGOs should be targeted for training and oversight to ensure that they understand and comply with this requirement.
- The international community should work more closely with a wide selection of local NGOs and community based organizations to target international aid distribution. Local NGOs have a better understanding of society and politics at the grassroots level.
- To relieve shortages, the international community, especially the UN, the U.S., the E.U and the U.K., should continue to press for the importation of grain by private entrepreneurs and other organizations. These international actors should advocate directly with the Zimbabwe government for an end to the current ban on this activity.
- To foster trust and accountability, the UN’s Relief and Recovery Unit should publicly report confirmed incidents of politicization, or the corrupt use of international food aid or GMB grain.
- The UN and other international relief donors should encourage and assist the Zimbabwe government and its agencies to comprehensively survey the nutritional and food-security status of all populations, including those in the ex-commercial farming areas. The findings should be made public and used to better target aid to those in need.
- Given the on-going food shortage and the general economic breakdown in Zimbabwe, the UN, in particular the WFP, and other international relief donors, should extend their programs into 2004 and raise funds for ongoing hunger relief efforts.
1 UN Organisation for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), UN Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeal in Response to the Humanitarian Crisis in Southern Africa – Zimbabwe, July 2002 – June 2003, Sec 3.2. See http://wwww.reliefweb.int/w/rwb.nsf/s/E047A96FBE2B164AC1256BFA0058AA9D
2 European Commission, Guidelines for Food Distribution in Zimbabwe, n.d.