The World Food Programme (WFP) is to rapidly expand an already sizeable emergency operation in Zimbabwe where drought, flooding and macro-economic problems have plunged 7.7 million people – half the population – into severe hunger.
WFP officials say they plan to more than double the number of people they are helping by January to 4.1 million, providing life-saving rations of cereal, pulses and vegetable oil and a protective nutrition ration for children under 5 years of age.
Thy say the move is urgently needed to meet the growing needs of the hardest-hit Zimbabweans.
WFP Executive Director David Beasley said: “We’re deep into a vicious cycle of sky-rocketing malnutrition that’s hitting women and children hardest and will be tough to break.
“With poor rains forecast yet again in the run-up to the main harvest in April, the scale of hunger in the country is going to get worse before it gets better.”
Experts say that Zimbabwe’s hunger crisis – the worst for more than a decade – is part of an unprecedented climate-driven disaster gripping southern Africa.
Temperatures in the region are rising at more than twice the average global rate and ever more erratic rainy seasons are hitting the country’s subsistence farmers hard.
Verity Johnson of CAFOD, told ITV News: “You can’t discount climate change, it’s a huge factor in what is happening.
“Zimbabwe has been in economic crisis for many years now and there’s been a steady deterioration, there have been further shocks this year with currency changes which have seen food prices going through the roof. It’s an incredibly difficult situation for ordinary people to deal with.”
Also speakjng to ITV News, Hilal Elver, a UN Rapporteur who visited Zimbabwe last month to report on the food crisis said: “This doesn’t mean that climate change brought the drought to the region. The problem is through the climate change, droughts are longer, deeper and much more severe and it comes very often.”
The crisis is being exacerbated by a dire shortage of foreign currency, runaway inflation, mounting unemployment, lack of fuel, prolonged power outages and large-scale livestock losses, afflicting urban residents and rural villagers alike.
WFP’s planned scale-up is a huge logistical undertaking, with the limited availability of Zimbabwean dollars and surging prices for basics presaging a near wholesale switch from cash assistance to food distributions.
It envisages the sourcing, purchase and delivery to the land-locked country of more than 240,000 metric tons of commodities through June, a challenge all the more daunting because drought and flooding have eroded food supplies across much of Africa.
An estimated US$293 million is required for WFP’s emergency response with less than 30 percent of that sum secured.
Beasley said: “We must not let our immediate focus on emergency aid distract us from investing in the resilience programs that will help chronically hungry people cope with the ever-more severe impacts of erratic weather.”
He added: “We urge the international community to step up funding to address the root causes of long-term hunger in Zimbabwe.”