Drought-stricken Zimbabwe declares state of disaster
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has declared a state of disaster as the country struggles to deal with a drought.
A government statement said Mr Mugabe had announced the designation, which is aimed at speeding the flow of aid to needy communities.
Philippe Van Damme, the European Union ambassador to Zimbabwe, warned last month that delays in declaring the drought a disaster could limit chances of getting international support at a time when donors are swamped with multiple humanitarian crises.
The drought has devastated crops across large parts of Africa, and the situation is especially acute in Zimbabwe, where a declining economy and rising unemployment have made life hard for many people in a country once known as a regional breadbasket.
The number of Zimbabweans in need of urgent food aid has spiked to about a quarter of the population of 13 million people, according to the UN World Food Programme.
That number could rise and the food crisis could spill into next year, said Prisca Mupfumira, Zimbabwe's minister for public service, labour and social welfare.
Most Zimbabweans rely on agriculture for a living, and Ms Mupfumira said the government plans to import 700,000 tons of maize to distribute to the needy.
Many Zimbabweans believe they will not get a share because they do not know the right people. Mr Mugabe has been in power for decades, his government holding a tight grip amid periodic accusations of human rights abuses and voter fraud.
The Zimbabwe Peace Project, a non-governmental group, said reports indicate food is being used as a political weapon to punish the opposition in some cases. It cited 135 cases of "food violations" from September to December.
Ms Mupfumira promised to act against any distribution problems.
"As government, we are responsible for the welfare of all citizens. Anyone politicising food aid will be punished severely, but we have not received any such reports yet."