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Friday, 3 May, 2002, 13:38 GMT 14:38 UK
Starvation strikes Zimbabwe
Boy with maize harvest
Maize crops have failed across Zimbabwe
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By the BBC's Thabo Kunene
Matabeleland, western Zimbabwe

People are dying as a direct result of the food shortage in Zimbabwe, villagers in rural areas say.

Residents of Matabeleland, one of the worst affected provinces, say that elderly people are starving to death, while children have died of poisoning after eating the wrong leaves as a substitute for food.

In rural areas, people begged me for money to buy bread which was twice as expensive as in urban areas.

One old man, Mandla Masuku, said two elderly people in his area collapsed and died last week after going for more than a week without food.

"We are suffering here my son," said Mr Masuku. "It's as if God has abandoned us."

His four children have left him to look for work in Botswana.

  Click here to read about the situation in the neighbouring province of Masvingo

In the northern district of Gwayi, I gave a lift to a 67-year-old man who no longer had the strength to walk due to hunger.

He said that people in his area had not harvested anything this year.

Students skip school

In nearby Nkayi, three hungry children from one family died after eating poisonous leaves from a tree.

Neighbours told me their mother had gone to Bulawayo in search of food.

Child in a field of wilted maize
Many children have been weakened by hunger

The government this week declared a state of disaster to deal with the food shortage which it blames on drought.

But World Food Programme (WFP) officials say disruption to agriculture because of the government's land seizure programme has worsened the problem.

Schools opened for a new term this week, but many students did not turn up for classes, apparently because they were too weak to walk the often long distances.

One head teacher, who asked not to be named, said he would suspend sporting activities until the food shortage ended.

See also:

02 May 02 | Africa
Zimbabwe's famished fields
27 Feb 02 | Africa
Malawi declares famine emergency
23 Jan 02 | Africa
Food aid arrives in Zimbabwe
19 Feb 02 | Africa
Famine stalks Southern Africa
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