Zimbabwe’s hunger crisis is quickly escalating into a food emergency, according to the United Nations. The country’s worsening situation is due to a perfect storm of political, economic, and environmental factors.
"Unfortunately, we are moving from a crisis to an emergency, which is pretty serious," Bishow Parajuli, the coordinator of UN agencies in Zimbabwe, said.
"Also the economic challenges facing the country, people have lost their income. The situation is really precarious,” he added.
Since the country’s 2017 coup, which overthrew President Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s dictator of 30 years, the new government under Emmerson Mnangagwa has struggled to stabilize the economy. Zimbabwe is suffering from an annual inflation of 175%, according to official figures published on Monday, and the cost of living continues to increase in the nation — which was already plagued by water, food, fuel, and medicine shortages.
And the conditions are continuing to deteriorate. In an effort to cut subsidies, the government has raised the price of fuel several times and is anticipated to increase electricity prices over the next few weeks, hitting the country’s poorest the hardest.
“Just a year ago my salary could sustain my family. Now we just live each day as it comes … It’s like we are sliding back to 2008,” Cleopas Murambwi, a 34-year-old day laborer from the capital of Harare, told the Guardian. “The signs are clear and it’s not looking good,”he added, remembering the collapse of the country’s economy just over a decade ago under Mugabe.
Mother nature has also been affecting food production in the area, increasing the risk of food insecurity. Severe drought due to a lack of precipitation, caused by El-Niño in countries across southern Africa and other tropical areas, has negatively impacted crop production — especially the production of corn, a key ingredient of sadza, a staple food in Zimbabwe.
Many other crops were also wiped out by Cyclone Idai earlier this year, just a few weeks before the harvest period.
The drought has also contributed to widespread water shortages across the region. Two of the capital’s reservoirs have dried up with others expected to do the same, Michael Chideme, the spokesman for Harare, said. The country has begun to ration its remaining water supply.
According to a recent report put together by the Zimbabwe government, UN agencies, and aid organizations, some people have been forced to work two jobs in order to survive the current circumstances, while others with no alternative have turned to selling their livestock and land, spending savings, and begging.
“I now survive by selling Tupperware,” Loice Muranganwa, a nurse and mother from Budiriro — a neighborhood just outside of the capital of Harare — said.
“It’s better than waiting for that meager salary. The government say there is no money,” she continued. She makes now $57 a month.
The country’s youth are also feeling the strains of the country’s predicament. In addition to rising food insecurity, children’s education has been disrupted as they are pulled out of school due to a lack of money for school fees.
"We have resorted to just one meal a day … We are struggling to get money to buy food,” 48-year-old grandmother Plaxedes Chibura told the Guardian. “Even school fees I can't pay."
For Prayer Maravamwidze, a 30-year-old teacher from Chipinge, teaching the children has become more and more difficult as economic concerns and living costs continue to increase.
“We are hard pressed. When there is no money, it becomes difficult to teach and this affects the learners. We are incapacitated. How can someone work without food on the table?” he said.
UN aid agencies and the government estimate that, between now and April 2020, $218 million will be needed to prevent 5.5 million vulnerable people from going hungry.
The next harvest is expected in April, but the crops will only be viable if there is enough rain to keep them alive. To counteract the effect of climate change, Parajuli encouraged farmers to focus their funds on irrigation and small grains.
Experts say that the government is taking measures to improve the state of the economy by refraining from printing money, which was a great contributing factor to the 231,000,000% inflation rate in 2008, and building a budget surplus for the first time in recent history.
In an effort to protect the local currency, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe also increased interest rates to 50% last month and recently outlawed transactions using foreign currencies, which contributed to the massive inflation.
However, many believe that change will not come unless political reform is carried out across the board, as Mugabe’s party remains in power and little has been done by Mnangagwa to persuade international organizations and investors to provide financial help.
“The generosity of the international community” may be Zimbabwe’s only hope at this stage, Parajuli said.