Millions of people in rural and urban areas face worsening hunger in crisis-hit Zimbabwe as the Covid-19 pandemic takes hold in the country, the United Nations World Food Programme warned on Wednesday, appearling urgently for US$130 million dollars through August to ease the hardship.
“With most Zimbabweans already struggling to put food on the table, the COVID pandemic risks even wider and deeper desperation,” said Eddie Rowe, WFP’s Country Director. “We must all do our utmost to prevent this tragedy turning into a catastrophe.”
There are now 4.3 million people in Zimbabwe who don't know where their next meal is coming from - up from 3.8 million at the end of last year, according to a recent nationwide assessment – the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, WFP said.
The total number of people facing hunger stands at 7.7 million, more than half the population.
WFP assistance in recent months has helped ease hunger in six of nine districts classified late last year as suffering “emergency” food insecurity, allowing them to be downgraded to the less severe “crisis” level. However, 56 of the country’s 60 districts are now categorised as experiencing “crisis” hunger, the UN agency said.
WFP supports communities suffering from “crisis” and “emergency” food insecurity.
WFP is planning to assist 4.1 million people in April, although insufficient funding has prevented it achieving the same monthly target since the turn of the year. In March, WFP helped 3.7 million of the most vulnerable Zimbabweans, said the agency.
Zimbabwe's cereal production in 2019 was half that of 2018, and less than half the national requirement and experts predict that the upcoming 2020 harvest will be even poorer, WFP noted.
Most of Zimbabwe’s food is produced by subsistence farmers dependent on a single, increasingly unreliable rainy season.
With unprecedented hyperinflation having pushed the prices of staples beyond the means of most Zimbabweans, increasingly desperate families are eating less, selling off precious belongings and going into debt, WFP underlined.
WFP is playing a critical role in the crisis, pre-positioning three months of food and cash assistance, rolling out new risk-control measures at distributions – increasing their number to prevent overcrowding, initiating handwashing and monitoring social distancing – and launching a communications campaign to convey essential health and safety information.