THE number of people at risk of starvation this year has exponentially risen by 900% to 5,5 million, despite government shelling out a staggering US$3 billion since 2016 under the Command Agriculture programme targeted at alleviating starvation.
TINASHE KAIRIZA/NYASHA CHINGONO
Recent disclosures by the Auditor-General (AG) show that substantial amounts of money under the programme were looted, mostly by top government officials, derailing the initiative. This has left millions of vulnerable citizens at the mercy of hunger. Government has since announced that it will splash an additional ZW$2,8 billion to finance production of the staple crop, maize, as well as soya bean under a cumulative land area of 240 000 hectares.
The programme, which formed the centrepiece of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s election manifesto last year and is aimed at attaining import substitution in maize, has been marred by massive corruption and reduced to a looting spree.
Statistics from the Food and Nutrition National Council and the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (Zimvac) seen by the Zimbabwe Independent indicate that the number of people stalked by hunger last year rose sharply from 600 000 to 5,5 million this year, putting relief agencies on high alert.
With Zimbabwe in the throes of a debilitating economic crisis characterised by spiralling inflation standing at 175,6%, widespread company closures and prolonged power outages, the number of people hounded by hunger and now in dire need of food extends beyond the rural areas which relief agencies have traditionally prioritised.
This comes as various humanitarian and relief agencies are escalating their intervention programmes to alleviate the crisis, with government and the United Nations (UN) in the process of mobilising US$331 million to feed millions of Zimbabweans ravaged by hunger.
Relief agencies have extended their assistance programmes to urban areas, with focus now targeting high density suburbs where the World Food Programme (WFP) reports that 1,5 million people in urban areas face starvation this year. Mnangagwa this week declared the hunger crisis, triggered by the El-Niño-induced drought spell, a national disaster.
According to minutes from an August meeting last year by the (FNCC) seen by the Independent, the number of people gripped by hunger swelled exponentially due to the prolonged drought spell spanning from last year until now.
“The Social Services department in their update informed the NFNSC that the number of food insecure households now stands at 579 865 requiring 28 993.25 metric tonnes of grain per month,” excerpts of the August 28 meeting’s minutes seen by the Independent read.
“To date 6 866.36 MT (metric tonnes) of grain was delivered to vulnerable households during the week ending 22 August 2018 and this brings the cumulative total to 191,507.65 metric tonnes.”
Last year, WFP projected that Zimbabwe was battling to feed 1,1 million people of its 15, six million population “at the peak of the lean season (January-March), as poor rains and erratic weather patterns have a negative impact on crop harvests and livelihood prospects.”
In its latest humanitarian appeal, the UN also forecast that production of the country’s staple crop, maize, would slump to 776,635 metric against the national requirement of 2,1 million metric tonnes.
“Production yields at communal farm level have been worst hit and granaries are only enough to sustain households for a maximum of three months. Exacerbating the food supply crisis is the overall impact of austerity related economic shocks,” UN said in its humanitarian appeal.
Last year the southern African country was ranked 108 out of 109 countries on the Global Hunger Index. The acute hunger crisis, the UN notes, is also being fuelled by a steep rise in prices of basic commodities at a time Zimbabwe is hamstrung by severe fuel and power shortages which have disrupted the operations of manufacturing companies.
“Affordability of basic food items is a real issue and forcing significant numbers to resort to negative coping strategies,” the UN said.
“Economic crisis is worsened by the limited essential services especially power and fuel supply. The opportunity for formal and informal employment continues to diminish as the productive sector contracts.”
With Zimbabwe emerging from the devastation of Cyclone Idai which swept away vast swathes of arable land in the eastern part of the country, 59% of the rural populace will be stalked by hunger.
“Following Cyclone Idai, which impacted in an already food insecure situation, the May 2019 rural livelihood Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (Zimvac) reports that 5,5 million people — or 59% of the rural population — will be food insecure at the peak of the lean season (January-March 2020).
“Furthermore, the IPC analysis, based on the Zimvac results, conducted in June 2019, projects that 3,58 million of these people will be in IPC phase three (crisis) and four (emergency),” the UN noted.
Zimbabwe’s hunger headache has also been worsened by an acute shortage of hard currency required to import fertiliser.
With the hunger crisis setting in, fears are looming that the country can potentially be ravaged by a massive outbreak of cholera, among other water borne diseases.
This has placed relief agencies on high alert.