Red Tape Slows Flow of Food in Zimbabwe
QUALIFYING for free food aid in Zimbabwe can mean negotiating a labyrinth of bureaucracy, standing in lines for hours, and waiting months before receiving the next ration of corn.Skip to next paragraph
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The crux of the problem is a grain quota system which reflects the fact that, as one of southern Africa's wealthier nations, Zimbabwe has tried to buy its way around the impact of the drought.
Usually a regional breadbasket, Zimbabwe ran out of grain in April because it continued to meet export contracts despite crop losses of about 75 percent. Since then, Zimbabwe has secured 2.9 million tons of cereal imports, including more than 2.5 million tons of corn.
But the official allotment of corn per month is hopelessly insuffient, and has necessitated complicated checks to ensure that recipients do not cheat the system, according to officials of the Department of Social Welfare and the Department of Health, and district administrators.
Take the case of Ruth Vuma (not her real name). In order to receive 5 kg (11 pounds) of corn, she must start by filling in a three-page form entitled: Drought Relief Application and Assessment Form.
On the form she must declare her identification number, province, council ward, village, marital status, along with the name, ID numbers, and location and birth date of each of her children.
Then she must give a full declaration of her monetary assets, including pension, public assistance, and allowances, if any. She must also list all her livestock and provide a detailed accounting of expected harvest crop-by-crop, with projected earnings and surplus.
This information must then be certified by the Department of Agriculture (Agritex) and by her local ward councilor.
The certified information must then be assessed by an officer of the Department of Social Welfare, and that assessment must be reviewed and authorized by a senior department officer.
This involves many hours of lining up at the food distribution point.
When she presents the three-page form to the assessing officer, she must produce her metal ID card, which must correspond with the number on her form, along with either the birth certificate of each of her children or their health ID cards.
When she failed to produce the right information at one of these steps, Mrs. Vuma joined the many other Zimbabweans turned away without food to begin the process all over again.
Such is the scene at Chegute Secondary School in Mwembe, a remote village in the drought-stricken southern district of Mberengwa.
An empty classroom at Chegute School served as the distribution point, and about a dozen 110-pound bags of corn were piled in one corner of the classroom. Welfare officials dispensed the grain into a variety of bags and containers with a 5-kg can.
It took nearly five hours from the time the first line formed for the first applicants to receive grain.
"It is a continual process of screening to ensure that people are not cheating," says Felix Manungo, the social welfare officer for Mberengwa. "We are reducing the numbers of people who qualify for free food because people are cheating."
Mr. Manungo's deputy, an assessing officer who asked not to be named, seemed frustrated. "It's a very difficult and very slow process. But I have my instructions, and I cannot make any exceptions," he says.
The most common form of "cheating" appeared to be mothers declaring children who, in fact, were staying with relatives in another village or working away from home.
Recipients say that 5 kg lasts no more than a week. In theory, distribution is carried out on a monthly basis. In practice, there is often a delay of two or three months between distributions.
"Clearly, 5 kg of corn is not enough," says Mberengwa district administrator Crispian Mudenge.
Unlike Mozambique, which relies almost entirely on food aid, airlifts, and food convoys, Zimbabwe is relatively prosperous, well endowed with natural resources and a sound transport and communications infrastructure.
Corn is now entering the country through South Africa and Mozambique at the rate of 6,600 tons a day. But Zimbabwe needs 8,800 tons a day if it is to meet its needs through the end of the year.