The World Food Programme (WFP) is calling on countries to step up support to Zimbabwe, where millions of people are facing hunger brought on by prolonged drought and economic meltdown.
Nearly eight million people, or roughly half the population, are not getting enough to eat, the UN agency said on Monday.
WFP plans to double the number of Zimbabweans that it assists, up to 4.1 million, but will require over $200 million to meet needs in the first half of 2020 alone.
“As things stand, we will run out of food by end of February, coinciding with the peak of the hunger season – when needs are at their highest,” said Niels Balzer, WFP’s Deputy Country Director in Zimbabwe.
“Firm pledges are urgently needed as it can take up to three months for funding commitments to become food on people’s tables.”
Declining harvests due to ongoing drought
Zimbabwe, once known as an African breadbasket, has been hit hard by three consecutive years of drought.
As a result, the maize harvest dropped by 50 per cent this year when compared to 2018.
To meet increasing needs, WFP was forced to launch an emergency lean season assistance programme in August, months earlier than expected.
Hilal Elver, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, visited Zimbabwe in November where she witnessed how women and children are bearing the brunt of the crisis.
“In a desperate effort to find alternative means of livelihood, some women and children are resorting to coping mechanisms that violate their most fundamental human rights and freedoms. As a result, school drop-outs, early marriage, domestic violence, prostitution and sexual exploitation are on the rise throughout Zimbabwe,” she said in a statement following her 11-day mission.
Runaway inflation affecting food prices
The hunger crisis comes as Zimbabwe is facing its worst economic downturn in a decade.
Runaway inflation is just one of the symptoms, and it has put the price of basic goods beyond the reach of the average citizen. WFP reported that bread is now 20 times more expensive than it was six months ago.
Increasing hardship is forcing families to skip meals, take children out of school, or sell off livestock, among other desperate measures.
Gladys Chikukwa sells tomatoes at the second largest market in the country, Sukubva, and is finding it hard to survive.
“Just because we are selling tomatoes in this market doesn’t mean that we have enough food for ourselves. We are seriously struggling,” she said.
“Our produce is rotting in this market because of prices. Today, tomatoes will go for 250 Zimbabwe dollars, tomorrow 300 dollars, the next day 400 dollars and people don’t have that money.”
Funding is essential
The drought shows no signs of letting up, and forecasts indicate another poor harvest in April, according to WFP.
The UN agency also faces challenges in scaling-up its operations in Zimbabwe as the shortage of local currency coupled with rapid inflation requires switching from cash-based assistance to food distributions.
And with other southern African countries also gripped by drought, food stocks must be sourced outside the continent and then shipped to neighbouring South Africa or Mozambique before being transported to landlocked Zimbabwe.
WFP will require nearly 200,000 metric tons of food to assist the 4.1 million Zimbabweans it plans to target. Mr. Balzer, the agency’s Deputy Country Director, underlined why financial support from the international community is so desperately needed.
“While WFP now has the staff, partners, trucking and logistics capacity in place for a major surge in Zimbabwe, it is essential that we receive the funding to be able to fully deliver,” he said. “The lives of so many depend on this.”