By Robert Tapfumaneyi
THE United Nations has warned food aid to Zimbabwe could run out by end of February this year if the international community does not come up with adequate funding to avert the looming catastrophe.
According to the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP), nearly eight million Zimbabweans are food insecure.
More than half of Zimbabwe’s 14 million people are threatened by lack of food, the UN says. It added that the aid the WFP provides could run out by the end of February.
“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 the highest. Firm pledges are urgently needed as it can take up to three months for funding commitments to become food on people’s tables,” Niels Balzer, the WFP deputy country director in Zimbabwe, said.
He warned millions of Zimbabweans been pushed into hunger by prolonged drought and economic crisis face an increasingly desperate situation unless adequate funding for a major relief operation materialises.
Zimbabwe’s current hunger crisis is the worst in 10 years.
Balzer said the WFP needed more than US$200 million to be able to help all those in need — a number almost double the 4.1 million it currently assists — in the first half of 2020 alone.
The WFP said the maize harvest in 2019 was half that of the year before, and that the overall production of cereal crops met less than half of needs nationwide. Rains had been “late and inadequate” and forecasts for the coming weeks predicted continuing hot and dry weather that is likely to cause another poor harvest in April, it said.
“Worryingly, runaway inflation – a symptom of the wide-ranging economic crisis Zimbabwe is experiencing – has propelled the prices of basic commodities beyond the reach of all but the most privileged. Amid dire shortage of foreign exchange and of local currency, Zimbabwe has seen drastic price increases – bread now costs 20 times what it cost six months ago, while the price of maize has nearly tripled over the same period.”
The WFP said the deepening hardship is forcing families to eat less, skip meals, take children out of school, sell off livestock and fall into a vicious cycle of debt.
There is little respite expected for the most vulnerable, including subsistence farmers who grow most of Zimbabwe’s food and depend on a single, increasingly erratic rainy season.