ZIMBABWE risks losing out on international relief assistance after government’s late declaration of a state of disaster in the wake of the El Nino induced drought, which has left nearly three million people requiring urgent food aid.
This comes amid indications that most international relief agencies have already committed their resources to countries that quickly moved to declare state of disasters.
At least 30 million people will need food aid in southern Africa alone, but the figure could rise to 40 million.
Zimbabwe needs about US$1, 5 billion to avert hunger and has appealed to the international community, local business people, civil society, churches and humanitarian organisations to assist with food.
The government last week belatedly declared the drought a national disaster, but by that time many other countries in the region had already done so, resulting in international relief agencies committing their resources elsewhere.
This means that the country will not get as much assistance as it would have got had it declared a national disaster earlier.
The government dithered despite being implored to do so from various quarters including the European Union’s ambassador Philippe Van Damme and former education minister David Coltart who spoke of the need to act speedily in light of the fierce competition for resources.
Malawi, for example, declared half the country a disaster zone early last year when floods destroyed crops, leading to a 28% fall in the staple maize crop output in 2015. South Africa in November last year declared five provinces as drought disaster areas.
Stakeholders who attended an Oxfam media briefing last Friday revealed the government’s procrastination may adversely affect the country. Oxfam is a globally renowned aid and development charity with partners in over 90 countries worldwide.
It was agreed that for instance early treatment of malnutrition in communities is eight times cheaper as compared to emergency treatments in clinics.
Christian Care director Edmore Makunura said although the declaration was welcome, its late arrival remained a challenge.
“Other countries declared earlier than us, the challenge with our situation as was in 2002, is that we normally declare a bit late for donors to mobilise and most communities would have already gone through a lot of hardship,” said Makunura.
Oxfam International executive director Winnie Byanyima said the government had made the right move by declaring a disaster given the scale of the drought.
She, however, said it would have been wiser to make the declaration earlier.
“My organisation welcomes the declaration of drought as national disaster by government. In some places, people have still not received any rains and some have not even planted yet and elsewhere they are a write-off,” Byanyima said.
“We underscore that early action to food insecurity is always more cost-effective than late response. We call on international donors to rapidly respond to this declaration and commit funding for an urgent and comprehensive response.
“Oxfam and our partners are ready to respond,” she added.
Last month Van Damme visited Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa at his Munhumutapa offices where they discussed the food situation in the country among other issues. The Zimbabwean government, however, indicated that it was mobilising internal resources and was in control of the situation although aid was welcome.
“One of the issues that we discussed in that regard is that there is a lot of international competition for humanitarian aid, so it’s extremely important that the Government moves very swiftly and quantify as much as possible the extent of the challenges,” he said.
“And on that basis, they possibly consider making a declaration of humanitarian emergency because as you know some of the countries have already made the declaration. That draws the attention of the partners on the country and facilitates the mobilisation of resources.”
Byanyima said the price of white maize, a staple food in Sadc had increased by up to 40% because of poor harvests.
The most drought-affected countries in the region are Angola, Malawi, Lesotho, South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.
Byanyima said Oxfam is particularly concerned about Malawi and Zimbabwe where impacts are worse. In Malawi 2,8 million people need food assistance but the number is expected to increase.
“In both countries, the governments have severe economic constraints which have impacted on their response. International organisations are responding, but much more could be done to mitigate impacts,” she said.
In other countries such as Ethiopia, the situation is extremely serious with an estimated figure of 10,2 million people requiring humanitarian help in 2016 at a cost of US$1,4 billion.
Zimbabwe requires about 1,8 million tonnes of grain for human and livestock consumption per year.
The nation produced about 800 000 tonnes of maize last season due to poor rains and flooding in some areas.
Nearly 16 000 herd of cattle in the country have died so far and villagers in some parts of Matabeleland South province can only afford one meal per day and some one meal every two days.
In 2011, a late response to food crisis in Somalia led to 258 000 deaths and massive suffering as well as loss of livelihoods in Kenya and Ethiopia.