Zimbabweans pushed to the brink by drought and economic meltdown

By agency reporter
November 29, 2019

Millions of people in Zimbabwe are on the brink of starvation as the southern African country struggles with relentless drought and the impact of cyclones, against a backdrop of years of economic decline.

“Within weeks the country may run out of maize, the staple food,” said Verity Johnson of CAFOD. “At best there will be further massive hikes in food prices for an already desperate population, who have seen the price of maize meal [flour] increase five-fold since the beginning of the year. There are severe bread shortages across the country. Where it can be found, a loaf of bread in Zimbabwe now costs up to fifteen times more than it did a year ago. In the struggle to feed their children, parents are going without themselves.”

People are also facing severe water shortages as dams and rivers dry up and urban supplies fail, exacerbated by lack of maintenance. Crippling power shortages are set to get worse, with the Kariba dam, the country’s main source of electricity generation, down to less than a fifth of capacity.

CAFOD is starting to receive worrying reports from volunteer health workers; one told us that he has noticed a number of breastfeeding mothers not able to feed their babies because they [the mothers] are malnourished, and not producing milk.

“People are already dying from poor nutrition and disease as health provision fails, but this could substantially increase”,  Ms Johnson added, warning of “a prevailing sense of despair”.

The UN warns that 7.7 million people, over half of Zimbabwe’s population, are short of food. This is more than anywhere else in the world, apart from the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Yemen, all of which are conflict zones.

Unlike previous crises, millions of urban dwellers are threatened along with the rural population. Zimbabwe’s Christian church leaders have cited “systemic corruption, shortages of fuel, prices going out of control and collapse of the health sector” as characterising “the current deteriorating economic crisis”.

Neighbouring maize exporters such as South Africa and Zambia have suffered crop failures of their own, because of the impact of climate change in the region. According to the UN’s Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change, Southern Africa is warming at about twice the global rate and is set to become drier with frequent droughts and increased number of heatwaves. This is a disastrous situation for Zimbabwe, where most of the rural population depend on rain-fed farming to live.

* CAFOD is the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development. It works with communities across Africa, Asia and Latin America to fight poverty and injustice. The agency works with people in need regardless of race, gender, religion or nationality https://cafod.org.uk/

[Ekk/6]

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