ZIMBABWE is on the verge of a major man-made famine characterised by partisan food distribution, repeated droughts and years of economic and financial decay that have left nearly eight million people, half of the population, food insecure, a United Nations official said

By Everson Mushava/Lorraine Muromo

United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver, yesterday said most households in the country were now unable to obtain enough food to meet their basic needs, with the situation set to deteriorate in the coming months.

Elver was presenting her preliminary assessment on the current situation in Zimbabwe after spending 11 days in the country.

The final report will be released in March next year.

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At least 60% of the population was now “food-insecure” Elver said, noting that even though shops stocked food items, many people could not afford
She said the situation demanded urgent attention from President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government to “put an end to this spiralling crisis before it morphs into a full-blown conflict”.

“I cannot stress enough the urgency of the situation in Zimbabwe,” Elver said.

“Currently, 60% of Zimbabwe’s population of 14 million is considered food-insecure, living in a household that is unable to obtain enough food to meet basic needs. By the end of this year, in only a few weeks, the food security situation is expected to worsen, with an estimated eight million people requiring urgent action to reduce food consumptions gaps and save lives.”

She added: “Widespread poverty, limited employment opportunities, liquidity challenges, pervasive corruption, economic instability, mismanagement of funds, natural disasters, recurrent droughts, and economic sanctions and conditionalities by the US and the EU, all contribute to Zimbabwe’s current crisis.”

Elver said in rural areas, 5,5 million people were currently facing food insecurity, as poor rains and erratic weather patterns were impacting harvests and livelihoods, while in urban areas, an estimated 2,2 million people were food-insecure and lack access to minimum public services, including health and safe water.

“The currency crisis, a heavy tax system due to the imposition of austerity measures, unpredictable inflation rates, high levels of unemployment and low wages all contribute to the food crisis affecting urban households,” she said.

The UN special rapporteur also said the situation was made worse by allegations of partisan distribution of food by Mnangagwa’s administration.

“Throughout my visit, I received allegations about partisan distribution of food aid, favouring those who support the ruling (Zanu PF) party. Individuals or communities, perceived to belong to the opposition or deemed insufficiently loyal to the ruling party, are reportedly deprived of their right to food in the regions most affected by the food crisis,” part of Elver’s report read.

On women and children, the special rapporteur said they were bearing the brunt of the crisis.

She said the majority of children she had met were malnourished, giving rise to child deaths, with 90% of Zimbabwean children aged between six months and two years exposed to minimum acceptable diet.

“I saw the ravaging effects of malnutrition on infants deprived of breast feeding because of their own mothers’ lack of access to adequate food,” she noted.

The situation, Elver said, has forced many girls to drop out of school, into early marriages, prostitution, and sexual exploitation.

She said the effects of the economic meltdown were visible in both rural and urban areas including the capital Harare.

The report comes three days after Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD) also said millions of people in Zimbabwe were on the brink of starvation as the country struggles with relentless droughts and the impact of cyclones, against a backdrop of years of economic decline.

“Within weeks, the country may run out of maize, the staple food,” said Verity Johnson of CAFOD.

“At best, there will be further massive hikes in food prices for an already desperate population, who have seen the price of maize meal increase five-fold since the beginning of the year.

“There are severe bread shortages across the country. Where it can be found, a loaf of bread in Zimbabwe now costs up to 15 times more than it did a year ago. In the struggle to feed their children, parents are going without themselves.”