Friday, February 22, 2008

More Trouble in Zimbabwe

The Press Association (UK?) reported yesterday that the inflation rate in Zimbabwe is over 100,000% annually.

The official rate of annual inflation in Zimbabwe has rocketed past the 100,000% barrier - by far the highest in the world.

The government statistics office said inflation rose to 100,580% in January, up from 66,212% in December.

The new official figure was still well below the rate calculated by independent analysts who estimate the real rate is closer to 150,000%.

Zimbabwe, a former regional breadbasket, is facing acute shortages of food, hard currency, gasoline and most basic goods in an economic meltdown blamed on disruptions in the agriculture-based economy after the often-violent seizures of thousands of white-owned commercial farms began in 2000 accompanied by political violence and turmoil.

And what is Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe doing? Why, he's throwing himself a birthday party, reported by the AP today.

As many as 10,000 people were converging on a town in southern Zimbabwe for President Robert Mugabe's 84th birthday celebrations, state radio reported Friday.

Many were traveling free on commandeered buses and trains, it said.

Organizers of Saturday's ceremonies said they raised about 3 trillion Zimbabwe dollars (or the equivalent of about $250,000 at the dominant black market exchange rate) for the bash amid chronic shortages of hard currency, gasoline, food and most basic goods.

In Africa's fastest shrinking economy, per capita gross domestic product in Zimbabwe fell from about $200 in 1996 to about $9 a head last year.

Yes, there are priorities, after all.

It's hard to imagine what the people of Zimbabwe are suffering, and even harder to imagine that the government doesn't seem to care. The only bright spot I've seen (since Robert Mugabe hasn't seen fit to die of old age yet) is in the Spring 2008 edition of World Vision's magazine. The cover story is about Zimbabwe.

"Ten, 15 years ago, this country was as developed as say, Louisiana," says World Vision's Edward Brown. Edward runs the USAID-funded Consortium for Southern African Famine Emergency program dedicated to feeding hungry families. "It's like we've been hit by a macroeconomic hurricane.... My grandparents lived through the Great Depression. It is a very similar comparison."

Zimbabwe's own depression, compounded by AIDS, has left 4.1 million people--30 percent of the population--at risk of hunger and malnutrition. "There is no bread. There is no [corn] meal," says Daniel Muchena, who directs World Vision's relief efforts in southern Zimbabwe. "With the drought, the grass is drying up. There are wildfires all over that kill the cattle. People have no money or savings. And even if they do have money, there is no food to buy."

[World Vision staff] recognize that food aid is necessary to save children and their parents from starvation, but that a turnaround in Zimbabwe can only come by focusing on the future. World Vision's Food for Assets program seeks to accomplish both.

The program provides food for families that agree to work together on farming or income-generating projects.

It's good to see rays of hope for some of Zimbabwe's people. Too bad that hope doesn't come from the people who should be the ones who care.

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