COVID19: 2,4 million of Zimbabwe’s urban poor are going hungry, says new Govt-WFP report

A resident of Harare South buys vegetables using a WFP e-voucher on her phone (Photo: WFP/Claire Nevill)

Urban poverty has worsened over the past year and 2.4 million cannot afford basic food, according to the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVAC) report.

The report is coordinated by the Food and Nutrition Council, which is under the Office of the President and Cabinet, and the World Food Programme (WFP).

COVID-19 lockdowns have “dealt a severe blow to poor urban communities”, the report says, with many more unable to find work.

This year, due to job losses worsened by COVID-19, 42% of urban households will not be able to meet their cereal requirements. This is higher than the 30% for the same period in 2019, according to the report.

“Families will find it difficult to put food on the table, most of them have been stuck at home and were not able to go to work,” WFP Country Director Francesca Erdelmann said on Monday. “The fortunate ones will skip meals while those without will have to go to bed with an empty stomachs. For the most vulnerable people, hunger will have a lasting effect on their lives. The deteriorating hunger situation, caused by COVID-19, threatens to be their biggest challenge.”

ZimVac reports a sharp fall in the standard of living for the urban poor. A total of 83% of urban households now live below the cost of the minimum expected food items such as mealie meal, salt and cooking oil. This is an increase from 76.8% in 2019.

The WFP says: “One of the challenges faced by the urban households were sharp price increases of basic commodities while the purchasing power of the Zimbabwe dollar has been eroded by inflation and negative economic effects of COVID-19.”

Turning the corner?

While the Zimbabwe government says the economy is “turning the corner”, the lack of safety nets means the country’s most vulnerable are sinking deeper into poverty. As Zimbabwe broadened currency reforms in 2019, a panel of UN experts warned that the measures would leave many poor Zimbabweans behind.

Promised government COVID-19 relief funds have not reached enough people to make a difference, leaving many reliant on donor aid. WFP’s urban assistance programme delivers monthly cash transfers to 326,000 Zimbabweans across 23 urban areas. Should more aid come to support the scheme, the WFP aims to widen this to 550,000 people living in the 28 worst affected urban areas.

Households are granted cash through electronic transfers and vouchers that enable them to buy food items from selected grocers.

Zimbabwe projects better harvest this year, which is hoped will lessen hunger and slow down price hikes.