Zimbabweans are ‘marching towards starvation’

Scraping by: Emilda Chingarambe prepares a meal in the Chinamhora district northeast of Harare. She says there is no bread in the shops and she can’t afford groceries. (Jekesai Njikizana/AFP)

Scraping by: Emilda Chingarambe prepares a meal in the Chinamhora district northeast of Harare. She says there is no bread in the shops and she can’t afford groceries. (Jekesai Njikizana/AFP)

The United Nations food agency on Tuesday launched a $331-million appeal for aid donations to feed millions of people in crisis-hit Zimbabwe, which is reeling from a drought and the high cost of food.

About five million people, or a third of the country’s 16 million-strong population, are in need of aid and at least half of them are on the cusp of “starvation”, according to the World Food Programme (WFP).

Speaking at the launch of the appeal, WFP executive director David Beasley said 2.5-million Zimbabweans were “in crisis emergency mode … marching towards starvation”.

He added that by early next year a total of 5.5-million people would be in a similar position.

Zimbabwe was previously described as the breadbasket of southern Africa, but its economy has been on a downturn for more than a decade with perennial food shortages, a foreign currency crunch, scarcity of basic commodities and high unemployment.

The government blames the food shortages on the effects of climate change, although critics say the shortages are a result of a slump in agricultural production following the government’s land reforms.

The last agricultural period was particularly bad as the country was hit by an El Niño-induced drought.

In addition to food shortages, the appeal also targeted the humanitarian needs of victims of cyclone Idai, which swept through parts of eastern Zimbabwe earlier this year.

The cyclone, which also hit parts of Malawi and Mozambique, affected 570 000 Zimbabweans and displaced about 50 000 people in the country.

Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube last week said the government was feeding hundreds of thousands of people affected by drought in both rural and urban areas, and had provided grain to 757 000 households since January.

The country’s inflation rate spiked to 176% in June up from 97.85% in May, according to official figures, and the government has decided to stop publishing inflation statistics for the next six months, raising fears of that the hyperinflation of 2008 may return.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa took over from veteran autocrat Robert Mugabe after a military coup in November 2017. In July last year Mnangagwa won disputed elections. During campaigning he pledged to revive the moribund economy, attract foreign investment, create jobs and turn the country into a middle-income economy by 2030.

But the dire financial problems of the Mugabe era returned to haunt the new leader, when a new 2% tax on electronic transactions in October spawned shortages of fuel and basic commodities.
The tax pushed the prices of food beyond the reach of many people.

Mnangagwa then announced a 150% fuel price increase in January, triggering countrywide protests that left at least 17 people dead and scores injured when soldiers opened fire on unarmed demonstrators. This fuel price hike — and five subsequent increases — were meant to ease shortages that have seen queues, in some cases more than a kilometre long, become a regular sight at petrol stations. Despite the price increases, the shortages persist. — AFP