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Zimbabwe on the road to recovery

The number Zimbabweans in need has decreased from seven million in 2002/2003 to only one million today.

Scores of Zimbabweans wait outside the South African Home Affairs offices to apply for a permit to stay in the country. Picture: Eyewitness News.

JOHANNESBURG - At the height of Zimbabwe's humanitarian crisis in 2002-2003, more than seven million people were in need of food aid. A decade later, the number of people in need has declined to a million, though it could go up by another 600,000 in 2013.

Still, two of the country's biggest donors, the European Union and the United States (US), and their implementing partner, the United Nations, said Zimbabwe is on its way to recovery and development. The EU has announced that it is scaling down its humanitarian assistance.

The decision should come as no surprise, reckoned the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO). The department "has progressively decreased" the funds allocated to Zimbabwe, from about US$18.9 million in 2010 to around $12.6 million in 2011, then to approximately $6.3 million in 2012, said David Sharrock, the European Commission's spokesperson on International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response.

Needs remain

Yet the decision comes amid a drought that the World Food Programme (WFP) said will leave one in every five rural households in need of food assistance next year.

NGOs also warn that a tense stand-off between government coalition partners ZANU-PF and factions of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) on a new constitution - critical for holding free and fair elections - could lead to violence.

Meanwhile, the coalition government, formed in 2009, is cash-strapped. Newspapers reported last week that the government had turned to South Africa and Angola for help with a $400 million shortfall in its budget. Finance Minister Tendai Biti was quoted saying the country needed the money to fund the 2012-2013 agricultural season, annual bonuses and a possible referendum on the new constitution.

"Unexpected events will continue to require intermittent and targeted humanitarian assistance until the country's economy more fully recovers," Hillary Renner, a US government spokesperson told IRIN. But the US government is "optimistic that the large-scale 'humanitarian emergency phase' of Zimbabwe's history has passed".

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