By Alois Vinga
EXTREME poverty in Zimbabwe rose to 49 % in 2020 due to the disruption caused on the national economy by Covid-19, coupled with inadequacies in terms of social protection, the latest World Bank report has established.
The document entitled, Zimbabwe Economic Update, observes that the number of extremely poor citizens rose to 7.9 million, adding 1.3 million more people into the already existing poverty bracket in 2020.
The survey shows that nearly half a million Zimbabwean households have at least one member who lost his or her job, plunging many into poverty, while also worsening the plight of the existing poor.
Food insecurity was also exacerbated by inadequate reach or coverage of relevant social protection programmes with less than a quarter of the increased number of extremely poor households receiving food aid in June 2020.
This share dropped to 3% of rural households in September 2020.
The pandemic also put pressure on strained public resources, the report notes, exacerbating implementation challenges while severely affecting service delivery in health, education and social protection.
“For example, as schools across the country closed in response to the lockdown measures, access to remote learning was limited in rural areas, especially for poor households.
“Only 9% of school-going children in rural areas were reported as having used mobile applications for learning during pandemic-related school closures, compared with 40% for urban children,” the report observed.
The survey observes that following a prolonged period of doctor strikes, reduced working hours for nurses, and limited and slow access to personal protective equipment, the number of institutional maternal deaths increased by 29% in 2020 compared to 2018, while deliveries at home increased by 30%.
Household loss of access to basic social services and deepening of negative coping strategies risk undermining Zimbabwe’s relatively high human capital and the pace and inclusivity of economic growth, according to the report.
The economic challenges and extraordinary shocks caused by the pandemic, and the drought and cyclone in 2019 provide opportunities to press forward with bold measures to protect lives and livelihoods.
World Bank Senior Economist and lead author of the economic update Stella Ilieva suggested the need to focus on welfare issues if lives are to be protected.
“Preserving lives during this unprecedented pandemic in this challenging economic environment will require a strategic approach to addressing underlying problems in the health sector.
“Such a strategy needs to recognise and simultaneously attend to the Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 health burden in coordinating and allocating sector resources,” she said.
As concerns regarding a possible third wave are mooted, the report notes ongoing efforts to ramp up capacity by ensuring adequate access to essential health services, improving the procurement, distribution, and management of pharmaceutical commodities and equipment in hospitals and clinics.