Child malnutrition crisis in rural Zimbabwe, say aid agencies

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The Independent Online

Aid agencies which have been allowed to resume work in Zimbabwe have reported a dramatic increase in malnutrition in rural provinces which were at the heart of the recent election violence, even as President Robert Mugabe hands out cash to the country's medal-winning Olympians.

The government announced last week that it would lift a five-month-old ban on aid work in rural communities, imposed after Mr Mugabe accused agencies of backing the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. On Thursday, the Red Cross federation made an urgent appeal for almost $27m (£15m), saying the food security situation was likely to be the worst on record because of rocketing inflation and Zimbabwe's shortage of foreign currency.

Rachel Pounds, of Save the Children, told The Independent on Sunday from Harare: "We are very relieved to be back at work, but concerned about what we're going to find. Our local partners have told us malnutrition rates among children are up, while thousands of the poorest children have dropped out of school to look for food.... Five months is a long time."

Before the ban, the agency was working in Matabeleland and the three northern provinces of Mashonaland, where there was savage retaliation following the shock result in March, when voters rejected Mr Mugabe and his party. Save the Children and other groups expect to learn from government officials tomorrow how and where they will be allowed to operate.

Meanwhile, on Friday Mr Mugabe gave $148,000 (£81,000) in cash to the nation's Olympians, $100,000 (£55,000) of which went to the swimmer Kirsty Coventry, whom he called Zimbabwe's "golden girl". The money was in US currency, not in near-worthless Zimbabwean notes.

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