WFP appeals for US$250m emergency aid to prevent Zimbabwe hunger ‘catastrophe’

Zimbabwe faces its worst drought in 40 years, and the race is on to help farmers adapt

The World Food Programme (WFP) on Thursday appealed for a further US$250 million in aid to support what it calls a “rapidly expanding emergency operation” to save millions of Zimbabweans from starvation.

By the end of the year, the number of people facing hunger in Zimbabwe will have surged by 50% to reach 8.6 million – 60% of the population – due to a combination of a third year of successive droughts, the economic recession and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Many Zimbabwean families are suffering the ravages of acute hunger, and their plight will get worse before it gets better”, said Lola Castro, WFP’s Regional Director for Southern Africa. “We need the international community to step up now to help us prevent a potential humanitarian catastrophe.”

A nationwide lockdown, reinforced last week, has worsened already high unemployment in urban areas, while rural hunger is worsening as unemployed migrants return to their villages. The absence of the vital remittances that these workers provided is more keenly felt, the WFP says.

Subsistence farming families, who make up three-quarters of Zimbabwe’s population and produce most of its food, are also hurting because of a third successive drought-hit harvest this year.

Zimbabwe yielded only 1.1 million metric tonnes of the staple maize this year. The harvest is less than half the national requirement. This points to even more severe hunger in early 2021, the peak of the next “lean” season.

“Hyperinflation is a feature of the country’s profound economic crisis and has pushed the prices of basics beyond the means of many Zimbabweans,” the WFP says. Maize prices have doubled, while families are eating less, selling their belongings and sinking in debt.

Drought resistance

With maize set to be an increasingly untenable crop in many arid regions of the country as temperatures rise, WFP is promoting the cultivation of drought-resistant, nutritious and indigenous alternatives like sorghum and millet. According to the government’s last crop assessment report, traditional grains were the only bright spot of a dire season. Output for 2020 is expected to be 103% higher than last year.

WFP plans to assist four million of the most vulnerable this year – those suffering “crisis” and “emergency” hunger – and scale up to five million in January-April next year, the peak of the lean season.

“As the already dire situation worsens, more contributions are urgently needed. This month, for lack of funding, WFP will only reach 700,000 of 1.8 million intended recipients.”

[Click to see – IN PICTURES: One village’s devastation at the hands of Zimbabwe’s worst drought in 40 years]