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Zimbabwe declares 'state of disaster' over food shortages

A devastating drought and poor land management have left a quarter of the population in Zimbabwe food insecure. At least 14 million people in Southern Africa face hunger.

President Robert Mugabe declared the "state of disaster" on Friday in many rural parts of the country once known as the breadbasket of Africa.

Declaring a disaster allows international donors to expedite food shipments, as the cash-strapped country said it would buy the staple maize to avoid mass hunger.

Nearly 2.5 million people in mostly rural areas are facing food insecurity.

The El Nino weather cycle

has brought drought to Southern Africa, leaving tens of thousands of cattle dead, dams low and rain-fed crops devastated.

The UN World Food Programme said last month that

14 million people were at risk of hunger due to the drought.
Watch video 02:35

South Africa suffers worst drought in decades

In Zimbabwe, rain is 75 percent below normal and in some areas three-quarters of crops are failing, Saviour Kasukuwere, the local government minister, said in a statement. Dam levels are at nearly 50-percent capacity and falling, he said, forcing cuts in the production of electricity by 62 percent.

The 91-year-old president

has blamed the country's agricultural problems on insufficient rain and Western sanctions due to the country's human right record.

Opponents and economists argue Zimbabwe's troubles started with a disastrous land reform in 2000, during which white farmers were forcibly evicted and their productive lands confiscated. After the land reform many farms remained underused.

Mugabe's policies caused the economy to tank 50 percent between 1999 and 2008, making what was once a relatively successful African economy largely dysfunctional.

cw/ng (AFP, Reuters)

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