By Akanimo Sampson
The coronavirus pandemic is threatening to exacerbate Zimbabwe’s dire economic and hunger crises, drastically affecting the lives of people in both urban and rural areas.
Before the outbreak of the virus, severe climate- and recession-induced hunger crisis has been deepening in the country.
Already, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) urgently needs $130 million to sustain through August an emergency operation to prevent millions of the country’s most vulnerable people plunging deeper into hunger.
WFP which is concerned with saving lives in emergencies and changing lives for millions through sustainable development has a critical role to play by sustaining its scaled-up food assistance programme.
WFP is working in more than 80 countries around the world, feeding people caught in conflict and disasters, and laying the foundations for a better future.
The UN agency must be able to deliver at full capacity – while supporting Zimbabwe’s response to the pandemic.
A recent nationwide assessment – the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) – shows that the number of acutely food insecure Zimbabweans has risen to 4.3 million, from 3.8 million at the end of last year.
WFP’s Country Director, Eddie Rowe, says “with most Zimbabweans already struggling to put food on the table, the COVID pandemic risks even wider and deeper desperation. We must all do our utmost to prevent this tragedy from turning into a catastrophe.”
WFP assistance in recent months has helped ease hunger in six of nine districts classified late last year as suffering “emergency” food insecurity (IPC 4), allowing them to be downgraded to the less severe “crisis” level (IPC 3).
However, 56 of the country’s 60 districts are now categorised as experiencing “crisis” hunger. WFP supports communities afflicted by “crisis” and “emergency” food insecurity.
WFP is planning to assist 4.1 million people this April, although insufficient funding has prevented it achieving the same monthly target since the turn of the year. In March, it reached 3.7 million of the most vulnerable Zimbabweans.
The total number of food-insecure people stands at 7.7 million, more than half the population. The $130 million being urgently sought by WFP is part of a total food assistance sector requirement of $472 million through December.
Cereal production in 2019 was half that of 2018, and less than half the national requirement. Experts predict that the upcoming 2020 harvest will be even poorer.
Most of Zimbabwe’s food is produced by subsistence farmers dependent on a single, increasingly unreliable rainy season.
With unprecedented hyperinflation having pushed the prices of staples beyond the means of most Zimbabweans, increasingly desperate families are eating less, selling off precious belongings and going into debt.
It is pre-positioning three months of food and cash assistance, rolling out new risk-control measures at distributions – increasing their number to prevent overcrowding, initiating handwashing and monitoring social distancing – and launching a communications campaign to convey essential health and safety information.