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Fifty per cent of Zimbabweans face starvation -

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ELEANOR HALL: Time is running out for Zimbabwe's political rivals to find a solution to the
country's crisis.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is warning that close to the
half of the country's population faces starvation unless food relief is provided immediately.

The organisation has just launched an appeal for help and Red Cross spokesman Matthew Cochrane has
been speaking about that to our Africa correspondent Andrew Geoghegan.

MATTHEW COCHRANE: Well today we've launched an appeal for about $28-million and that aims to
provide some very basic and immediate food assistance for 260,000 in people in Zimbabwe. What we
have is an unfolding humanitarian, a potential humanitarian catastrophe.

A UN report released in June suggested that this year's harvest was the worst on record. Only about
40 per cent of the food that the country needs to produce is going to be produced and that means,
worst case scenario, by the end of this year, 45 per cent of the country's population - 5.1-million
people - will be food insecure, won't have access to sufficient food.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: I guess there's always been a problem, certainly in the past couple of years,
given the economic meltdown in Zimbabwe, that people haven't been able to get access to food.

But you're saying that the combination of that and the drought, poor harvest, is really hurting.

MATTHEW COCHRANE: Absolutely, look it's a convergence of factors is the best way to describe it.

You've got hyper-inflation, the Government says over two-million per cent at the end of last month.
You've got chronic drought across the country that's alternated with heavy, heavy rain. According
to the Government, 95 per cent of Zimbabwe has received 150 per cent of its normal rainfall and
that's in 2007. So instead of getting the drenching rain you need to nurture soil, you're getting
rain that's just washing away that top soil. And this also comes on the back of a chronically under
performing 2007 harvest.

So all these factors and the current tensions in the country have contributed to this situation and
we really can't overstate it enough. It's a dire, dire situation and it will only get worse unless
significant action is taken now.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: Well obviously a lot of people are already affected by this. What are they doing?
How are they getting their food?

MATTHEW COCHRANE: Well Zimbabwe is based on an agricultural economy and people do have some skills
I guess in adapting to a lack of rainfall and adapting to soil that's not producing.

So there are some things they can do but the difficult situation is that when people have only a
very, very limited income and an income that halves every week, they have to start making decisions
on where they spend that income, and often food gets cut back in quantity and quality and that
obviously leads to malnutrition which is very dangerous for children, particularly children under
five.

And another factor, if you can add another factor to this, Zimbabwe sits right in the middle of the
HIV and AIDS pandemic, so you've got hundreds of people dying from AIDS every day.

Access to antiretroviral treatment is on the decline because of hyper-inflation. There's just not
enough money to support the procurement of these drugs. And these people are particularly
vulnerable, people who are living with HIV can't afford to be malnourished, if anyone can afford to
be, obviously.

And then their family members, those who are having to support them have to find other ways to put
themselves in greater risk to find money and food.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Matthew Cochrane from the Red Cross speaking to our Africa correspondent
Andrew Geoghegan.