The UN has decided to substitute cash transfers with food donations in its new bid to combat the hunger crisis that has put the lives of 8 million people in Zimbabwe at risk.
Speaking at an interview during his latest visit to Zimbabwe, Gerry Bourke, spokesperson for the UN’s World Food Program in southern Africa, said the move was necessitated by the limited local currency available.
“Zimbabweans who we support are telling us please give us food, please don’t give us cash because cash becomes devalued so quickly,” Bourke said in the Jan 2 interview.
Zimbabwe is currently facing its worst hunger crisis in 10 years, with more than half of the country’s 16 million people now considered food-insecure and most households being unable to obtain enough food to meet basic needs due to climate change and hyperinflation.
In December last year the UN issued an warning stating Zimbabwe, once seen as Africa’s breadbasket, is in the grip of starvation.
“In rural areas, a staggering 5.5 million people are facing food insecurity as poor rains and erratic weather patterns are impacting harvests and livelihoods. In urban areas, an estimated 2.2 million people are food-insecure and lack access to minimum public services including health and safe water,” the statement by UN experts reads.
As Zimbabwe is a landlocked country, food has to be shipped into ports in South Africa and Mozambique then trucked into Zimbabwe. This was one of the reasons the UN preferred cash transfers as opposed to food donations. However, Zimbabwe’s economic performance has negatively affected the livelihoods of both rural and urban households due to severe cash shortages and an increase in price of cereals, prompting the UN to switch to food donations.
According to the UN statement, eight of Zimbabwe’s 59 districts have acute malnutrition rates of over five percent, a situation unprecedented in the southern African country.
“Because of this, children are increasingly dropping out of school and being forced into early marriage while others are facing domestic violence, prostitution and sexual exploitation,” the statement says.
Even though drought has long been cyclical in southern African countries, climate change has made extreme weather patterns more frequent, with long-term consequences and damage. This combined with economic sanctions and restrictions imposed on the government of Zimbabwe by Western countries have exacerbated the situation by indirectly raising living costs for the civilian population, particularly with food access.