Zimbabwe needs more than R2bn to avert a 'hunger catastrophe'

A homeless man searches for food in Mutare, Zimbabwe, during the country's national lockdown. File Photo.
A homeless man searches for food in Mutare, Zimbabwe, during the country's national lockdown. File Photo.
Image: Ngoni Shumba

Zimbabwe is urgently in need of US$130m (about R2.36bn) for an operation which could stretch up to August to prevent the country’s most vulnerable people from plunging deeper into hunger because of the effects of Covid-19.

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, up from 3.8-million at the end of last year.

“With most Zimbabweans already struggling to put food on the table, the coronavirus pandemic risks even wider and deeper desperation,” said Eddie Rowe, World Food Programme (WFP) country director. “We must all do our utmost to prevent this tragedy 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. The programme supports communities afflicted by “crisis” and “emergency” food insecurity.

WFP is planning to help 4.1-million people in 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 US$130m being urgently sought by WFP is part of a total food assistance requirement of US$472m (about R8.6bn) 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.

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