At least 7.7m people, including 3.2m children in Zimbabwe’s rural and urban areas are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance as the food insecurity crisis worsens, a latest United Nations report shows.
The reasons for the crisis include economic instability, recurrent climate-induced shocks, limited employment opportunities, liquidity challenges, which all have contributed to limited adequate access to food especially in the urban space.
For those in rural areas, low productivity and lack of access to markets are also affecting the food security of the vast majority of people, whose livelihoods depend on rain-fed agricultural production.
Malnutrition rates are high, especially in rural areas.
“Circumstances for millions of Zimbabweans have worsened. A large number of Zimbabweans lack access to adequate food and have to rely on humanitarian assistance,” the report states in part.
“In 2020, more than 7.7m people, half the population will face food insecurity at the peak of the lean season. Perhaps needless to say, due the limited availability of food, malnutrition is likely to be on the rise among the food insecure, exacerbating the risk of disease among adults and stunting and wasting in children.”
For many Zimbabweans, the crisis has been exacerbated by high annual inflation at 471.3% in October. Although it came down from 659.4% in September, the annual inflation rate is still high. Month on month, consumer prices went up 4.37% following a 3.83% increase in the prior month.
High inflation means, purchasing power continues to be eroded and affordability of food and other essential goods and services.
To eke out an honest living, many in urban settings and often working in the informal market, hustle and bustle as they turn to vending in the country’s cities and towns’ central business districts, something which can easily be mistaken for a surge of business and commerce.
Consequently, streets of the central business districts have suddenly become an eyesore as many people, vehicles, fruit and vegetables stalls, electronic gadgets, clothing items, lined along pavements as vendors and shop owners fight for a share of the hard-to-earn green back, which is regarded as real money, which stores value.
Due to hyperinflationary pressures currently obtaining in Zimbabwe, very few vendors are accepting the Zimbabwe dollars, which has been rendered almost useless. Most markets, wares are priced in United States dollars, which is scarce.
This is also almost the norm in rural areas, especially at growth points and smaller business centres.
With the planting season well upon us and the rain season expected to be between normal to above normal the rural population should expect a good yield.
At face value it appears all is well.
Drought and crop failure, exacerbated by macro-economic challenges and austerity measures, have directly affected vulnerable households in both rural and urban communities.
Deteriorating economic conditions over the last two decades has forced many formal companies to shut down or significantly downsize operations resulting in many workers being thrown onto the streets.
Although there is some stability in the exchange rate following the introduction of the foreign currency auction system in July this year, prices of basic goods continue to increase, marginally though, in both the local currency and in US dollar terms, making life of the long suffering ordinary people in Zimbabwe unbearable.
Other expenses such as rentals, school fees, utility bills and transport have also choked incomes as they have also rocketed in the past few months.
This has resulted in many struggling to afford basics.
The Constitution of Zimbabwe indicates that “the State (through the government) must take all practical measures within the limits of the resources available to it, to provide social security and social care to those who are in need.”
In its efforts to assist vulnerable households, the government targeted to assist a million beneficiaries through its cash payments of Covid 19 relief funds, but the uptake was low for a population in dire need, a Cabinet minister disclosed.
“We waited for months and months but when everything was said and done we ended up with just over 268 000, a small number. We have even reviewed upwards the amount that people are supposed to get. The disbursements are continuing into December and hopefully we will get a few more people.” Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare minister, Paul Mavima, told journalists in the capital recently.
Zimbabwe has received support at its time of need, to alleviate hunger.
For instance, in July this year, the United States provided US$60.5m to the World Food Programme (WFP) to assist in fighting hunger in Zimbabwe.
WFP also introduced cash disbursements in September under the Urban Social Assistance programme.
The programme was funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
The United Nations Children’s Fund in collaboration with the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, also chipped in with funding from the German and Swedish governments and are giving cash transfers to benefit 34 000 people in urgent need over a period of 12 months in Masvingo and Harare Provinces.