The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) on Thursday appealed for an additional US$250 million to support a rapidly expanding emergency operation for millions at-risk in Zimbabwe as Covid-19 aggravating an already severe hunger crisis. WFP estimates that by year end, the number of food insecure Zimbabweans will have surged by almost 50% to touch 8.6 million – a staggering 60% of the population – owing to the combined effects of drought, economic recession and the pandemic.
“Many Zimbabwean families are suffering the ravages of acute hunger, and their plight will get worse before it gets better,” WFP’s Regional Director for Southern Africa Lola Castro said. “We need the international community to step up now to help us prevent a potential humanitarian catastrophe.”
A nationwide lockdown, reinforced last week, Castro said, has precipitated massive joblessness in urban areas, while rural hunger is accelerating as unemployed migrants are returning to their villages and the absence of the vital remittances they provided is more keenly felt.
Subsistence farming families who make up three-quarters of Zimbabwe’s population and produce most of its food are also hurting because of a third successive drought-hit harvest this year. It yielded only 1.1 million MT of maize, the staple cereal, well down on last year’s already poor 2.4 million MT and less than half the national requirement. This, in turn, presages even more severe hunger in early 2021, the peak of the next “lean” season.
Hyperinflation is a feature of the country’s profound economic crisis and has pushed the prices of basics beyond the means of many Zimbabweans. Last month, maize prices more than doubled in Harare, the capital. Increasingly desperate families are eating less, selling off precious belongings and going into debt.
With maize set to be an increasingly untenable crop in many arid regions of the country as temperatures rise, WFP is promoting the cultivation of drought-resistant, nutritious and indigenous alternatives like sorghum and millet. This is part of a broader campaign to help vulnerable communities build resilience to increasingly frequent and severe climate shocks.
Donations permitting, WFP intends to assist 4 million of the most vulnerable this year – those suffering “crisis” and “emergency” hunger – and scale up to 5 million in January-April next year, the peak of the lean season. As the already dire situation worsens, WFP said, more contributions are urgently needed. This month, for lack of funding, WFP will only reach 700 000 of 1.8 million intended recipients.