The UN World Food Programme (WFP) is moving into top gear this month to feed four million Zimbabweans, but severe funding shortages mean the organisation's coffers are beginning to run on empty, which has caused a cut in rations to below the minimum dietary recommendations.
"Many of the beneficiaries will get less than the recommended monthly calorie amount, and many of the beneficiaries will not be in such a well-nourished condition as we had hoped for by the end of November," WFP spokesman Richard Lee told IRIN.
Earlier this year a joint Food and Agriculture Organisation and WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission estimated that in first quarter of 2009 - the peak of the crisis - 5.1 million people, or 45 percent of the population, would require food assistance.
The WFP had planned to feed four million people a month between November 2008 and March 2009, but "there is currently no food in the pipeline for distributions in January and February – just when the crisis is reaching its peak," the food agency said in a statement.
The Consortium for Southern Africa Food Security Emergency (C-SAFE), an umbrella organisation for US-sponsored NGOs funded by the US Agency for International Development, intends to provide food assistance to about one million people in the first quarter of 2009.
Lee said the monthly WFP rations of 12kg of maize per person would be reduced to 10kg, and the usual 1.8kg of beans would be cut to 1kg as a precautionary measure to extend food stocks, "but [this] will leave greater numbers more malnourished and more susceptible to disease."
In November the WFP will feed twice as many beneficiaries as it fed in October, and is aiming to distribute about 46,000 tonnes of food to more than 3.3 million people in both rural and urban areas, as well as about 600,000 people in the safety net programmes for chronically vulnerable people.
A US$140 million appeal on 9 October 2008 to bridge the food shortages at their most precipitous has gone unheeded by donors. "We're not panicking yet, but if donations do not come in we might have to reduce rations further, or decrease the number of people we are reaching. But we're not at that stage yet," Lee said.
If cash donations are received, it would take another six to eight weeks to convert "the contribution into food on a beneficiary's table", the WFP said, which left a fast-shrinking timeframe to ensure an uninterrupted food supply.
Lee said donors had responded to funding calls in the past, and the WFP "is confident" that they would "reach into their pockets again", but was not sure why donors had not reacted to the funding call this time.
A Western donor organisation representative based in the capital, Harare, who declined to be named, told IRIN that "donor fatigue" regarding Zimbabwe was setting in.
"You should not be surprised that the appeal for food assistance for Zimbabwe is not receiving any donor assistance, and that could be the reaction from the donors to the [political] impasse," the representative said.
The 15 September power-sharing deal, brokered by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the regional body, fell at the first hurdle after President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party and Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) failed to agree on the distribution of ministries, specifically Home Affairs, which controls the police force.
In an effort to break the deadlock, the SADC called an extraordinary summit in Johannesburg on 9 November but failed to resolve any issues, and it is feared that the deal is all but dead in the water. After the summit Mugabe said he was ready to form his own government, while there is a growing expectation that the MDC will withdraw from the deal within the next few days.
"When the power-sharing deal was signed in September, most of us cautioned that we would see if the deal would succeed. As it turns out, the deal has not succeeded, and that means sanctions which were in place will remain. There is a strong likelihood that more effective economic measures will be implemented," the representative of the donor organisation said.
A senior Western diplomat based in Harare, who declined to be identified, told IRIN: "I foresee more sanctions being applied to Zimbabwe; this time they are likely to be more comprehensive sanctions."
"Our position is that SADC and ZANU-PF are not recognising the fact that the Movement for Democratic Change, led by Morgan Tsvangirai, won the first election in March, which was generally free and fair," the diplomat said.
Tsvangirai won 47.9 percent of the ballot in the general election on 29 March, gaining a majority in parliament, but falling short of the 50 percent plus one ballot required for a first round win of the presidency. Mugabe managed 43.2 percent in the general election and ZANU-PF lost control of the house for the first time since independence from Britain in 1980.
"Mugabe was the sole contestant in the run-off [presidential] election held in June, and that was not a free and fair election by any stretch of the imagination. We quite naturally condemn ZANU-PF's attempts to treat the MDC like a junior partner by grabbing all the crucial ministries," the diplomat said.
Mugabe blames the country's economic crash - annual inflation is officially pegged at 231 million percent, although independent economists put the rate very much higher - coupled with acute shortages of food, water, foreign currency and electricity, as well as regular outbreaks of cholera, on European Union and US sanctions.
The "smart sanctions" target about 170 of the country's ruling elite, including Mugabe and his second wife, Grace, and include a travel ban and the freezing of foreign assets.