R3.3bn urgently needed for food aid in Zimbabwe - UN

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The UN and Zimbabwean authorities on Thursday launched an urgent appeal for $234m (R.3.3bn) for more than five million people in urgent need of food due to a drought and a weak economy.

The appeal came as UN Humanitarian Affairs chief Mark Lowcock visited the country this week to get a firsthand account of the situation.

The funds are to "provide urgent food, health, water, sanitation, hygiene and protection support for 2.2 million people of the 5.3 million people in need over the next six months", the United Nations said in a statement, which amounts to about a third of the country's population.

"In areas across the country, there are acute shortages of essential medicines, and rising food insecurity has heightened the risk of gender-based violence, particularly for women and girls," it said.

A government document seen by AFP stated that around 7.5 million people in both rural and urban areas will require food aid between February 2019 and March 2010.

"I am releasing 10 million dollars today as a first contribution to the appeal," Lowcock said during the official launch in Harare.

Lowcock had earlier held talks with President Emmerson Mnangagwa and the ministers of foreign affairs and finance.

During the talks he "urged the government to find ways of engaging with people about legitimate grievances – including through national dialogue on the economic challenges the country is facing – and to investigate all reports of violence in a prompt, thorough and transparent manner".

In January protests erupted nationwide in Zimbabwe after the president announced that fuel prices would double in a country already suffering soaring living costs and regular shortages of basic commodities.

Troops and police were deployed following widespread looting and rioting. They brutally crushed the protests and at least 17 people died and hundreds were injured, dozens with gunshot wounds.

Zimbabwe's economy has been on a new downturn since 2012 and in January, official annual inflation shot to 57% from 42.09% in December 2018.

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