HARARE - Zimbabwe faces rising food shortages as drought, exacerbated by the El Nino weather pattern worsens, the UN Office of the United Nations Resident Coordinator has said.
The strong El Nino episode has raised serious concerns regarding the impact on food insecurity, with harvests badly affected by drought conditions, raising the spectre of massive production declines of key cereal crops such as maize.
This emerged at a multi-stakeholders meeting, jointly hosted by the Office of the President and Cabinet and the UN System in Zimbabwe last week.
The meeting called for scaling up of humanitarian assistance to address the immediate needs of 2,8 million or 30 percent of the total population in dire need of aid.
Addressing over 170 senior representatives from government, diplomatic corps, development and humanitarian partners, civil society organisations, non-governmental organisations, private sector, and the media, the UN resident coordinator and UNDP resident representative, Bishow Parajuli emphasised that Zimbabwe has been hard-hit by the effects of El Nino, with harvests devastated.
The current rainfall season has so far been the driest in the last 35 years, he said.
The late onset of rains in Zimbabwe apparently reported to be below normal, coupled with higher than average temperatures, has severely affected the prospect of 2015/2016 crop production, livestock and rural livelihoods, he said.
Deputy chief secretary to the president and Cabinet, retired colonel Christian Katsande called on the UN and humanitarian partners to scale-up their responses to address the increasing immediate needs of the affected population in the areas of: agriculture; food; health; water, sanitation and hygiene; nutrition; child protection; and education.
In addition to the looming food insecurity, during the past months, livestock condition and consequently livestock prices have decreased significantly in some parts as a result of poor grazing and water shortages.
The highest number of livestock deaths recorded due to drought is in Masvingo Province, with 12 373 animals reported dead or 50 percent of reported national deaths.
The drought has also impacted negatively on water supplies. Water availability for domestic use is inadequate, the UN chief noted.
Nationally, 81 percent of households reported unavailability of water for agricultural purposes for irrigation schemes and gardens.
Masvingo Province reported the highest levels at 90 percent of inadequate water for agriculture.
Water has become scarcer with households being forced to rely on unprotected sources, and health risks related to water-borne diseases on the increase, albeit contained thus far.
A recent typhoid outbreak in Harare resulted in 291 suspected typhoid cases in February.
In the same period, a total of 402 suspected and 38 confirmed cases and one death have been reported across the country.
The eroded productive capacity of vulnerable farming households and the increased food prices have resulted in higher rates of malnutrition especially in the most food insecure districts, the UN warned.
Based on prevalence estimates, nationally 99 243 children under the age of five, are estimated to be acutely malnourished and the number is likely to increase in 2016.
The UN representative warned that some children’s education will be adversely affected by the food shortages.
For example, an estimated 6 000 children in Matabeleland North Province are skipping classes, citing hunger and the need to help out with house or farm work.
In some of the worst affected districts, the impact of the drought is reflected in declining school attendance and concentration levels.
Parajuli said therefore, the main priority at this stage is to ensure children remain in school and continue to learn.
He said the introduction of school meals would go a long way in alleviating the situation.
In response to the prevailing severe drought, the UN agencies — with support from development partners and in cooperation with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) — have reached more than a million affected people with $76 million in funding from partners, including US/USAid, UK/DfID, EU/Echo and the UN Central Emergency Response Fund.
The UN and humanitarian partners have prepared a revised Humanitarian Response Plan, which identifies the priority humanitarian needs of over $350 million, for the period April 2016 to March 2017.
This is aimed at complementing national efforts to scale-up relief efforts to reach those who are most affected and vulnerable groups.
Impressed by the resilience of the farming communities that he observed first-hand during the recent visit to Matabeleland North, and after witnessing the impact of some of the UN and NGO partners supported community asset building projects.
The UN Resident Coordinator said, “While we should scale-up our immediate humanitarian response to save lives and ring-fence the gains made in the social sector over the past years, we should aim at redoubling public and private investments as well as lure foreign direct investment and maintain official development assistance to build resilient, inclusive and sustainable economy as the recurrent natural disasters could be the new normal.”