Save the Children has warned that UN aid plans to rescue 13 million people in southern Africa from starvation could be heading for disaster.
The charity, which was one of the first agencies to warn of the impending famine in the region, claims that the UN World Food Programme's reliance on commercial organisations to import the necessary grain will lead to a massive shortfall.
The World Food Programme predicts that close to two million of the three and a quarter million tonnes of grain needed in the region, will be commercially imported. But there has to be a three-fold increase in what the private sector is now achieving if this target is to be met, according to Save the Children.
Between October 2001 and June 2002, commercial firms brought in 213,000 tonnes, while the World Food Programme says it expects 852,000 tonnes from the private sector in the next ten months. It is hoped that the Zimbabwe government will lift restrictions on commercial imports to produce the increase but it is a "leap of faith
that the restrictions will be removed, according to the charity.
The charity's Zimbabwe programme director, Chris McIvor, said: "Relying so heavily on commercial grain importers without a back-up plan is a massive gamble with the lives of millions on the edge of starvation."
Save the Children is calling for the World Food Programme to closely monitor the level of commercial imports and if there is a shortfall, step in by bolstering its own food aid programme.
The situation in Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia is expected to worsen severely in August and September because of continued food shortages brought on by crop damage after flooding and drought. Mozambique, Lesotho and Swaziland are also affected.
The Disasters Emergency Committee National Appeal for southern Africa has been postponed because public concern over the crisis is not yet strong enough.