The United Nations has called for increased international support for Zimbabwe as eight million people - or roughly half the population - face hunger.
The World Food Programme is planning to double the number of Zimbabweans that it assists to 4.1 million, but says it will require over $200m (R2.8bn at current exchange rates) to meet its needs in the first half of 2020 alone.
“As things stand, we will run out of food by end of February, coinciding with the peak of the hunger season – when needs are at their highest,” said Niels Balzer, WFP’s Deputy Country Director in Zimbabwe, in a statement.
“Firm pledges are urgently needed as it can take up to three months for funding commitments to become food on people’s tables.”
To meet the increasing hunger needs of the population, the WFP was forced to launch an emergency 'lean season' assistance programme in August, months earlier than expected. The country is likely to face another below average harvest in 2020 following poor rainfall.
Hilal Elver, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, visited Zimbabwe in November where she witnessed how women and children are bearing the brunt of the crisis.
“In a desperate effort to find alternative means of livelihood, some women and children are resorting to coping mechanisms that violate their most fundamental human rights and freedoms. As a result, school drop-outs, early marriage, domestic violence, prostitution and sexual exploitation are on the rise throughout Zimbabwe,” she said in a statement following her 11-day mission.
The hunger crisis comes as Zimbabwe is facing its worst economic downturn in a decade. Runaway inflation has put the price of basic goods beyond the reach of the average citizen. The WFP reported that bread is now 20 times more expensive than it was six months ago. Rotational power cuts, meanwhile, have been caused by low water levels at Kariba Dam's hydroelectric power station.
Difficulties in scaling up
The UN agency also faces challenges in scaling-up its operations in Zimbabwe as the shortage of local currency coupled with rapid inflation requires switching from cash-based assistance to food distributions.
And with other southern African countries also gripped by drought, food stocks must be sourced outside the continent and then shipped to neighbouring South Africa or Mozambique before being transported to landlocked Zimbabwe.
WFP will require nearly 200 000 metric tons of food to assist the 4.1 million Zimbabweans it plans to target. Balzer underlined why financial support from the international community is so desperately needed.
“While WFP now has the staff, partners, trucking and logistics capacity in place for a major surge in Zimbabwe, it is essential that we receive the funding to be able to fully deliver,” he said. “The lives of so many depend on this.”