(Bloomberg) -- The International Monetary Fund is in talks with Zambia to boost financing for the country that’s suffering the impacts of its worst drought on record, just as it emerges from a painfully slow debt restructuring process.

“We are in active discussions with the government of Zambia to see how we can support, including the option of additional financing,” Abebe Selassie, director at the Washington-based lender’s Africa department, said in an interview. “We will of course look favorably to any requests that they make.”

Zambia, which in 2020 became Africa’s first pandemic era sovereign defaulter, secured $1.3 billion in IMF assistance in 2022 as part of its efforts to restructure about $13.4 billion in liabilities. This year, the worst drought in 100 years of records scorched a large part of the nation, killing crops and draining dams vital for its production of hydroelectricity.

The government needs about $900 million to deal with the devastation and prevent people from dying of hunger, Finance Minister Situmbeko Musokotwane said Tuesday. He said he’s asked the IMF, World Bank and bilateral donors for help. 

“We don’t like begging, but the choice is between stopping to beg and people dying,” he told Bloomberg in an interview. “So under the circumstances, I’m afraid we have to beg.”

Selassie said it was still early days with no decisions yet taken. But the easiest and quickest route to boost financial assistance to Zambia would be by augmenting the IMF’s existing economic program with the southern African nation, he said.

The drought is also impacting other nations in the region including Zimbabwe, Botswana, Angola and Mozambique, wiping out crops just months before the harvest, threatening the food security of millions of people.

For Zimbabwe in particular, the situation is even more dire. It’s been cut off from international credit since defaulting on its debts in 1999 and remains in arrears to the World Bank and other development lenders, which means it can’t go to them for help.

‘Incredibly Problematic’ 

“That I think is going to be an incredibly, incredibly problematic situation,” Selassie said. “That worries me, keeps me awake tremendously.”

Zimbabwe has been trying to regularize its standing with creditors, including the World Bank and European Investment Bank to whom it owes $6.7 billion in arrears, according to Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube. 

He aims to secure an IMF staff monitored program — an informal deal that doesn’t involve financing — during the second half of this year. That’s a realistic time-frame, Selassie said. 

The IMF still needs to seek more clarity on how Zimbabwe’s newly introduced currency will work, he said, as well as improving transparency around the country’s state-owned enterprises.

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