By Mlondolozi Ndlovu
Harare, March 06, 2016 – US ambassador to Zimbabwe Harry K Thomas has cautioned against the abuse of food aid the rich nation was donating to vulnerable communities by Zimbabwean authorities for different reasons.
He was speaking this past week during a joint ceremony by his government and the World Food Programmes (WFP) to unveil $10 million in additional humanitarian assistance aimed for local communities ravaged by the current El Nino weather induced drought.
The funds are being channelled through the super power’s aid agency, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) while WFP is the implementing power.
“I can assure you that USAID has a robust monitoring system in place to safeguard our food assistance,” Ambassador Thomas said.
“WFP identifies food insecure people through a systematic process, including geographic targeting and community based assessments.
“They register and verify beneficiaries using valid means of identification. Then they conduct monitoring to ensure that the households most in need receive the aid.”
The US envoy said USAID has also put mechanisms in place that enable ordinary Zimbabweans to report any grievances.
This he said involves availing suggestion boxes and a help desk at all food distribution centres adding that all queries are being acted upon.
He added: “People can also contact USAID or their local authorities directly. We will act on any and all allegations of misuse of food assistance.
“We work closely with other donors to ensure there is no duplication of effort and that as many communities as possible are covered during this challenging time for Zimbabwe.”
Ambassador Thomas’s sentiments would be well received in opposition circles which have accused President Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zanu PF party of diverting food assistance and parcelling it out to its own supporters.
Zanu PF is often said to be using traditional leaders and district administrators to deny food to the opposition as punishment for supporting the “wrong” party.
Speaking during an interview to celebrate his 92nd birthday last week, President Mugabe denied his government was abusing food aid to punish those who have withheld their support to him.
His denials were contradicted by repeated claims by the country’s civic groups food aid discrimination was rife in rural Zimbabwe.
Speaking over the fresh donation, Ambassador Thomas said the $10 million brings to a total $35 million donated to Zimbabwe towards the current drought relief strategies by his country.
Over 2,8 million mostly rural Zimbabweans are in dire need of food assistance following the failure of the current cropping season.
The US assistance is targeted at 600 000 locals.
President Mugabe last month declared the current drought a state of emergency, something that paved way for a consolidated appeal for food assistance.