Hunger hits Zimbabwean cities as drought drives food shortages

21 May 2019 - 06:00 By James Thompson
An official of the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority inspects water levels on the Kariba Dam in Zimbabwe. File photo
An official of the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority inspects water levels on the Kariba Dam in Zimbabwe. File photo
Image: REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

At least 37% of the urban populace require food aid in Zimbabwe and, unlike in the past, aid will also be distributed in towns and cities.

According to Famine Early Warning Systems Network in May, levels of acute food shortages are up because of poor rainfalls experienced last year in November, which meant a delay in planting and subsequently harvesting normally done in April. This has resulted in poor households engaging in "negative coping strategies" that include reduced meals and meal sizes per day.

The Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee in its report forwarded to the presidency revealed that in rural communities, at least 2.4 million people needed food aid between January and March. But this week, the welfare ministry hinted that the figure had gone up and more needed to be done to avert hunger.

"Food will be distributed to the vulnerable in society without looking at their social status. Government policy is to also issue food aid in urban areas," said Lovemore Matuke, the deputy minister of public service, labour and social welfare.

Power cuts in Zimbabwe are lasting up to 10 hours daily in some areas and affecting livelihoods and productivity in the country. For the last two decades, Zimbabwe has struggled to generate adequate electricity and the government says blackouts will be prolonged due to a drought.

The government has since started compiling a data base for families that need food aid in both urban and rural communities. The Zimbabwe situation has been upgraded to IPC Phase 3 (Crisis), with about 10% food insecure already placed in IPC Phase 4 (emergency).

Those in Phase 4 are also bearing the brunt of harsh economic conditions.

"The most affected households are those with minimal or depleted cereal stocks, making them more dependent on markets for food purchase," said Relief Web, a humanitarian information portal.

However, there are longstanding fears that food aid could be distributed along partisan lines. Recently, victims of Cyclone Idai were faced with this crude reality when food aid was distributed using Zanu PF membership records in affected areas. In some cases captured on video, food distributors wore Zanu PF party regalia.

But local government minister July Moyo said, "Zanu-PF youths offered to carry the food in the party-branded vehicles, leading some to assume that the food had been grabbed by Zanu-PF for distribution."

The country’s staple diet comprises cereals, particularly maize and wheat. As such, the situation has taken a political stance according to government which alleges that bread producers are deliberately pricing the commodity beyond the reach of many to incite an uprising.

Addressing Zimbabweans living in the United Kingdom earlier this month in London, information minister Monica Mutsvangwa said producers were not keen on finding common ground.

"The private sector think bread makes people revolt against the government," she said.

She claimed that some companies wanted to buy all the wheat in government silos to create artificial shortages.

"Some companies wanted to buy all the wheat at the GMB silos probably thinking government was still as clumsy as before," she added.

The minister is on record as saying that if the situation gets out of hand, government will put in place price control measures, but economists warn that controls will result in empty shelves and a bigger problem as people go hungry.


X