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‘8 million people food insecure’

The World Food Programme (WFP) recently said nearly 8m will be food insecure this year.

In WFP Country director Eddie Rowe (ER) tells Business Times reporter Chengetai Murimwa (CM) that from now until June this year the UN agency needs US$103m to feed about 4.1m people in the rural areas who are food insecure.

Find excerpts below:

CM: How is the hunger situation in the country?

ER: We have just completed a rapid assessment of the food security situation in the country. We know that the vulnerability assessment projected that up to 5.5 million people in the rural areas will be challenged in accessing food easily and we have another 2.2 million in the urban areas.

Since August last year we have been providing assistance and what we have seen is that we have been scaling up our assistance, increasing the number of people we are reaching, we now see a bit of stability on the severity of food security across the country.

A typical example when we looked at the category of severity way back in August where we had about nine districts that were classified as most severe now it’s reduced to four districts meaning that because of the food assistance communities can access food.

But if you take out the food assistance because of the drought most communities had run out of food so they depend either on the government or from our assistance on a monthly basis.

CM: Which areas are most affected by the current drought and floods?

ER: Matabeleland North and South, some parts of Midlands specifically areas around Zvishavane. Mashonaland Central and Manicaland are also affected. I should point out that the level of food insecurity has a direct link to the Agro-Ecological Zones in the country.

Where we have Agro-Ecological Zones four and five these are arid areas that regardless of the weather conditions would not receive adequate rainfalls.

You find out the number of food-insecure households is linked to these Agro Ecological Zones that’s what our analysis is also showing.

CM: What intervention programmes are you carrying out as WFP to mitigate the effects of drought?

ER: We have three main programmes; we have our lean season assistance where we provide a food basket comprising of cereals, proteins, and oils to every individual in the households.

We do that in a seasonal nature that is during the hunger period, October to April which is what we are doing now and we know that the peak of the hunger season is from January to March and that’s why we have scaled up our intervention of food assistance under the Lean Season Assistance and this month we are reaching 3.5 million people.

This year what we have done is to complement this food assistance with some resilient activities, for example, 30% of the 3.5 million people that we are providing food the assistance is also involved in resilience activities.

One of the resilience activities 29,000 smallholder farmers are being supported with small grains so that they can produce the likes of cow peas, millet, and sorghum.

We also have certain districts like Masvingo, Chiredzi, and Mwenezi where we are working with the communities to create community assets such as weir dams, nutrition gardens, dip tanks for livestock, fodder gardens for livestock feeds.

This year we made the decision that we are going to complement the food assistance with resilience activities so that if next year there is another shock they will be able to withstand the it.

The last one is our nutritional intervention, what we have decided is we have both the preventative and the treatment. Out of the 3.5 million people we are providing with food assistance, some 750 000 children under the age of five are receiving a special nutritious product which we call Super Cereals full of micronutrients to make sure they do not deteriorate in their nutritious status.

Then we have the treatment where we are providing Super Cereals to moderately acute malnutrition children in places like Mutasa and we are doing this together with UNICEF.

CM: In areas that were affected by Cyclone Idai last year what kind of assistance is still needed?

ER: I was there three weeks ago and I was very much impressed with the resilience of the communities there.

In most cases, you would think people just want food. In Chimanimani and Chipinge these people were very willing to rehabilitate their communities and we supported them with food.

There are over 25 assets that we have worked with these communities to either rehabilitate or built. What I have found a challenge is housing, shelter; we still have a number of people living in camps. We know that the government has started to construct houses. I was very much impressed that the roads have been rehabilitated, canals have been constructed.

There has been a lot of rehabilitation at least in Chimanimani and Chipinge.

CM: In areas that you do cash transfers are villagers managing to access basic goods from the shops given the price increase and shortage of basic goods that are being experienced?

ER: Last year up until July 70% of our assistance was in the form of transfers even in the rural areas but as soon as we started seeing price hikes, liquidity crunch it became almost impossible to continue with cash transfers and by December last year we had to switch to in-kind.

So all our activities in the rural areas we are providing in-kind assistance, the cash transfers are in the urban domain.

We have eight urban domains where we are providing assistance through mobile cash transfers. We monitor on a weekly basis prices of commodities and availability of commodities in the market, now obviously it varies by districts but on average price increases on a weekly basis are between nine to 18% on basic commodities.

Now it’s different in urban areas, in the urban areas there are some commodities that are available, the issue here is the prices because prices keep increasing on a weekly basis, so we adjust our transfer given that we have to transfer cash in Zimbabwean dollars, we have pegged our transfer value at US$9.00 and we monitor the conversion to see whether that amount can buy the quantity of food that a household requires on a monthly basis.

For now, it’s just under US$9.00, we are looking at the trend and I am not projecting but if we continue with this trend it is most likely in the next month or two we might have to revise that US$9.00 threshold because of the increase in prices of commodities.

CM: During times of hunger you find that women are exposed to all sorts of abuses, what are some of the GBV cases you have come across that are being caused by hunger?

ER: I have worked in different countries in Africa, the incidence and level of domestic violence or Gender-Based Violence intake for example West Africa as compared to incidences we receive here it is very low here. I will tell you why. It is because of your high human capital, Zimbabwe has the highest level of education in Africa and so women know their rights. One of the activities that we bring in our food distribution is to bring in experts in these communities to provide training, awareness on GBV and to encourage women through our hotline to report. When we do receive these reports we have specialised UN Agencies, such as UN Women, UNFP or even UNICEF if it’s related to children and they would follow up on these cases.

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