Zimbabwe’s already catastrophic food crisis could get much worse by the end of February unless $200 million in emergency funding is secured by the World Food Program (WFP), according to a press release.
The United Nations’ food agency has been expanding assistance throughout the country for the past several months but is urging countries and organizations to contribute to its emergency response fund before the peak hunger season. The new funds would allow the WFP to acquire and deliver enough food to reach 4.1 million people and deal with unexpected developments, such as worsening inflation.
“As things stand, we will run out of food by end of February, coinciding with the peak of the hunger season — when needs are at their highest,” Niels Balzer, WFP’s deputy country director in Zimbabwe, said in the press release. “Firm pledges are urgently needed as it can take up to three months for funding commitments to become food on people’s tables.”
The humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe has been building for several years but has worsened over the past 12 months due to a combination of factors.
A years-long drought has hampered food production in key agricultural zones. This year alone, severe drought caused maize and cereal output to decline by 50%, leading to food shortages and long lines of people queuing up for aid throughout the country. The multi-year drought could continue into 2020, according to WFP, as current forecasts suggest little rain through the first several months of the year.
Extreme droughts are becoming a normal part of life in countries around the world as climate change disrupts global precipitation patterns and increases temperatures. Agricultural systems in countries such as India and China have suffered in the face of massive droughts in recent years.
In the years ahead, countries will have to invest in improved irrigation systems, new modes of food production, and ecologically regenerative practices to avert food crises, as outlined in the United Nations Global Goals.
On top of hostile agricultural conditions in Zimbabwe, an economic crisis has caused inflation to skyrocket, making basic goods too expensive for ordinary people.
Bread is 20 times more expensive than it was six months ago, and maize prices have tripled, according to the WFP.
The struggling economy has forced the WFP to switch tactics. Instead of providing cash-based assistance to families so that they can buy food, the organization now simply provides food.
“While WFP now has the staff, partners, trucking, and logistics capacity in place for a major surge in Zimbabwe, it is essential that we receive the funding to be able to fully deliver,” Balzer said. “The lives of so many depend on this.”
Women and children have been particularly hard hit by the lack of food, according to WFP. Children under 5 who do not receive proper nutrition are at a heightened risk of stunting and wasting — health consequences that have lifelong repercussions.