Zimbabwe has declared a state of disaster over worsening food shortages in a bid to get donor aid and avert mass starvation. It is estimated that 7.8 million of Zimbabwe’s 13 million people are in need of food assistance, despite the nation long being seen as a regional breadbasket, according to a report by CNN.

The food disaster declaration signed by president Robert Mugabe was effective for three months and now granted him the authority to order “extraordinary measures” to alleviate food shortages. “Zimbabwe has blamed the crisis on a drought, but the World Food Programme says farm disruptions caused by a government plan to seize white-owned farms for landless blacks has also contributed to the problem,” according to the report.

In January, the government ordered 200,000 tonnes of corn worth US$25m from neighbouring South Africa, but less than half has been delivered because of financial and logistical problems, according to the UN Relief and Recovery Unit in Harare. The government is now seeking additional 200,000 tonnes of corn from Kenya, Brazil and Argentina “to stave off starvation.”

With record inflation of 113% in the country’s shrinking economy and the acute shortage for hard currency, the government said it would need aid to pay for imports. However, the EU and the United States have announced targeted sanctions against government leaders to protest against human rights abuse, a breakdown in law and order and the recent presidential elections “condemned as deeply flawed by international observer groups,”  the report concludes.            

By Aaron Priel, just-food.com correspondent