THIN maize-meal porridge with no peanut butter and very little sugar — for the lucky ones — has become normal breakfast for most children in Zimbabwe’s urban areas.
By Wongai Zhangazha
For the slightly more privileged, this may be followed by thin slices of cheap bread accompanied by a cup of tea without milk. On a good day some may have sadza with vegetables for lunch and repeat the same meal for dinner.
Meat has become a rare luxury.
In most cases, however, most vulnerable families are only having two meals per day — breakfast and lunch — as a result of a combination of the El Nino-induced drought and the economic hardships bedeviling the country.
The food security situation is worse off in rural areas, as indicated by drought assessments conducted by government and its partners, but the growing number of cases of malnutrition being reported in urban areas is an indication that hunger and poverty are on the rise everywhere, including in Harare — the capital city.
Although cases of malnutrition have been reported in many parts of the city, Harare City Council nutrition specialist Rumbidzai Chituwu said that the high density suburbs of Dzivaresekwa, Hatcliffe, Hopley and Mbare have the highest number of cases.
“From January to June 2016; of the children treated for malnutrition at the 14 clinics, Dzivarasekwa had the highest, followed by Hatcliffe and Hopley while for outpatients department attendances, Mbare had the highest number of kwashiorkor cases,” Chituwu said.
“For now, I can only talk about the malnourished children we see at our clinics. This is why we are advocating for a detailed vulnerability assessment similar to the one conducted in the rural areas before the end of the year.
This assessment will provide information on the current food security situation in Harare and how the El Nino induced drought has affected urban areas. This will give us a complete picture of the nutrition and food security situation in Harare.”
According to the recently released Zimbabwe Demographic and Health (ZDH) Survey (2015) on the nutritional status of children between six and 59 months, 23% of the children are affected by stunting (low height for age and is an indicator of chronic malnutrition) resulting from prolonged under nutrition and or frequent infections which can slow down growth while 6,8% were found to be underweight. The survey observed that the problem of wasting affects 1% of children.
Chituwu said because of the high percentage of malnourished children, Harare’s health department is implementing a management of acute malnutrition programme at its clinics where children with severe malnutrition are managed.
“Children diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition are treated using plumpy’nut — a ready to use peanut based paste enriched with micro-nutrients. Those with medical complications requiring stabilisation are referred to Harare and Parirenyatwa Hospitals,” she said.
“The city also has a robust growth monitoring programme where children under five have their growth monitored. This provides an opportunity for screening of malnutrition for children.
“Health education and counselling is conducted before weighing of children. City health promoters also assist with screening for malnutrition in the community and refer to the health facility. This allows for early identification of malnutrition and treatment before the child deteriorates.”
Chituwu said children between six and 59 months are also given supplementary Vitamin A at six months intervals.
Cases of malnutrition have also been reported in other urban areas other than Harare hence calls for an assessment to determine the impact of the drought in towns and cities.
Deputy Chief Secretary in the Office of the President and Cabinet Christian Katsande last month admitted that malnutrition was a problem in many urban areas. He said Zimbabwe should conduct an urban livelihood assessment to determine urban and peri-urban food security, so as to provide a more holistic picture of the population deemed to be food insecure in the whole country.
A United Nations (UN) statement on the situation said: “The impact of the El Nino-induced drought is being felt not only in rural areas but also in urban areas … Katsande informed of the government’s intention to conduct an urban livelihood assessment to assess urban and peri-urban food security.”
An assessment of the impact of the drought in rural areas has already revealed that hunger and malnutrition is widespread.
According to the 2016/2017 Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVAC) Rural Livelihood Assessment, the number of food insecure people in Zimbabwe is likely to increase to over 4 million between January and March 2017.
The UN estimated that 2,8 million were food insecure as of March this year.
Food insecurity levels increased significantly in all 60 districts and in particular in the 20 most food insecure districts.
In the districts with the highest food insecurity levels — Binga and Mudzi — 79% of the population will be food insecure in the period January to March 2017.
Commenting on the findings UN Resident Coordinator, Bishow Parajuli, said “the findings of the 2016/2017 ZimVAC and the 43% increase in the number of food insecure people will demand that we scale up our humanitarian response efforts in the coming months.”
Drought is also wreaking havoc in other countries across the entire southern African region.
In a recent telephonic press briefing conference, USAID assistant administrator for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance, David Harden, said Southern Africa is facing the worst drought in 35 years and estimates that 18 million people are facing heightened food insecurity.
Harden said as a result USAID is releasing US$127 million to most affected countries in the region — Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Madagascar, Lesotho, and Swaziland.
The announcement came at a time Sadc on July 26 official launched an appeal for US$2,4 billion in assistance. Harden said they are 4,1 million Zimbabweans at risk.
USAID Office of Food for Peace Director Dina Esposito said: “We are estimating that somewhere around 40% of the rural population in Zimbabwe that 4,1 million people are going to be food insecure. By comparison, in 2015 it was around six percent.
“So while we know that a lot of these communities are chronically food insecure, we do feel, as we pointed out, this is a historic moment, a historic drought, where needs are dramatically higher than what we would call a normal year in Southern Africa. Somewhere around one million tonnes of food deficit for Zimbabwe, which is of course, cause for concern.”
Unicef says Zimbabwe is facing its worst malnutrition rates in 15 years, as nearly 33 000 children are in urgent need of treatment for severe acute malnutrition. The statistics are an indicator that the government should channel more resources to ensure that the vulnerable, especially children, are fed and not waste resources on luxuries and foreign trips.