Zimbabwe Faces Worst Drought In 40 years: 3.58 Million People At Risk Of Starvation

New findings released by the World Food Programme (WFP) Report on 14th November 2019 have revealed that 3.58 million rural people in Zimbabwe, 38% of the population, are facing emergency levels of food insecurity and starvation. Inadequate access to safe water and sanitation have been causing disease outbreaks, such as cholera, which 780,000 people remain at risk of. During these times of extreme food insecurity and economic stress, children and women are particularly vulnerable to extreme coping mechanisms such as transactional sex, family separation, child marriage, child labour, and increased sexual violence. The Regional Inter-agency Standing Committee (RIASCO) has reported that 150,000 children in Zimbabwe are currently in need of protection from these extreme coping mechanisms due to food insecurities. National Global Acute Malnutrition levels have risen up to 3.6% from 2.5% in 2018.

The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), UNICEF and WFP developed a 5-year program from 2017–2021 to improve the resilience of rural communities. Despite this program, these impacts of climate shocks on vulnerable communities have been severe. In August 2019, President Emmerson Mnangagwa declared a national emergency and Zimbabwe has appealed for $331 in emergency humanitarian food aid to help see them through this crisis. The head of the world food programme, David Beasley, emphasised the emergency situation by saying “We are talking about people who truly are marching towards starvation if we are not here to help them, we are facing a drought unlike any that we have seen in a long time.”

This urgent crisis is one which is becoming increasingly familiar and recurrent across the globe. Climate change is manifesting as extreme weather events which are affecting those most vulnerable, such as women, children and poor farmers, and the need to adapt faster, sooner and build the resilience of these communities is paramount. Focusing solely on providing humanitarian aid without building the resilience of communities fails to address the root vulnerabilities, such as poverty or unsustainable farming methods, which put people at risk of starvation. Whilst a five-year resilience plan by UNICEF and WFP is, therefore, a step in the right direction, lessons learnt from this crisis need to be fast learnt in order to make the plan more effective.

A drought in early 2019 caused massive national crop failure. This was followed by the disastrous freak cyclone Idai, which washed away the remaining crops, increased the vulnerability of rural Zimbabweans and left tens of thousands of people homeless. Another root of these food shortages came from Zimbabwe’s economic crisis which has eaten up the financial security and safety nets of many rural and urban people to incoming disasters.

In Zimbabwe, the resilience of vulnerable communities needs to be built up through building a stable national economy as well as improving the sustainability of farming techniques to adverse weather conditions. More effective safety nets such as diversifying livelihoods, using technology as early warning systems to disasters and secure financial backup need to be in place. Furthermore, the lessons learnt here need to be globally; start building the resilience of communities up before disasters strike so that communities can effectively cope with disasters and continue to improve their livelihoods. As climate change is a global problem, it is the responsibility of global governance systems to help vulnerable communities build up their resilience and to do more in order to reverse the coming catastrophes.

Devyani Gajjar