HARARE - As hunger may stalk up to about six million Zimbabweans by January 2017, various organisations have moved in to save multitudes of children from starvation — as both urban and rural populations have been affected.
Government — through aid agencies — has begun implementing schools feeding programmes to alleviate hunger of children in the most drought stricken areas in Zimbabwe.
According to a report compiled by Plan International, Unicef and World Vision titled “Regional Early-Stage Child Protection Rapid Assessment Southern Africa El Niño Emergency Response”, more than 6 000 children dropped out of school in Matabeleland North to find food and fend for their families.
The report also said daily school attendance of children living with disabilities also changed as they joined their families in search of food.
It also indicated that migration patterns for children in the province showed that 70,37 percent was due to lack of food.
“61 percent of children get into domestic work, 28,92 percent into mining, 42,17 percent have sexual favours, 37 percent get into agricultural work involving heavy duty machinery while others get into factory work, transporting goods and other dangerous work in exchange for food,” the report stated.
Among the efforts to save children from hunger, the Harare City Council(HCC) — through its Education and Social Services division — has established soup kitchens at different social service centres.
The soup kitchens are mostly targeting marginalised groups of orphans and other vulnerable children (OVC) in greater Harare and those affected and infected by HIV/Aids.
Child-headed families that cannot afford a decent hot meal per day are also targeted.
HCC’s social development acting director, Mathew Marara, explained that soup kitchens were basically feeding schemes aimed at providing nutritional support and food to OVC’s.
He said the supplementary feeding schemes will be afforded to groups of identified OVC’s and they would get meals depending on sponsoring partner’s schedules.
So far, soup kitchens have been opened in Mbare, Highfield, Dzivarasekwa, Warren Park and Kambuzuma.
Marara said the soup kitchens were an initiative aimed at ensuring that marginalised children accessed nutritional support and a source of a balanced diet.
“A number of Private Voluntary Organisations, churches and trusts had come forward through social services with assistance on material and human resources such food products and in some cases equipment like gas stoves, pots, plates.
“Council provided space at its crèches and community centres for the establishment of these soup kitchens and occasionally truckloads of firewood,” he said.
World Food Programme country director Eddie Rowe said due to the El Niño-induced drought, the subsequent declaration of a state of emergency by the government and the projection of high food insecurity of up to 43,9 percent at the peak of the hunger period, his organisation implemented the Lean Season Assistance (LSA) programme.
He added that the WFP Emergency School Feeding programme, under the LSA programme, started in July 2016.
Rowe said the programme which started with approximately 9 800 pupils has increased to 35 525 children, adding that with the scaling up of the initiative to Binga District, they planned to reach an additional 38 000 pupils, with an ultimate target of 77 000 primary school pupils to be accessed until April 2017.
“The emergency school feeding programme serves as a short-term safety net. It targets primary schools in the most food insecure rural districts, providing a mid-morning porridge of fortified corn-soya blend to students.”
“The long-term vision is for WFP to provide technical support to government to re-establish the national school feeding programme. The short-term emergency programme will provide a platform for WFP to provide capacity development and technical expertise to the ministry of Education in the development and scaling-up of a national homegrown school feeding programme,” Rowe said.
He said in order to reach 1, 9 million people per month at the height of the hunger season (January to March 2017), WFP requires an additional $111 million.
Zimbabwe National Council for the Welfare of Children national director, Taylor Nyanhete, told the Daily News on Sunday that because there are many orphans and child-headed families, children require not only food but also shelter, clothing, healthcare, education and access to registration.
He said since resources are the key driver to having many challenges addressed, a budget should be allocated that deals with problems faced by vulnerable children.
Nyanhete said government should set aside a budget with clear accountability mechanisms that cater for children affected by hunger.
“We are having an increase of child beggars on the streets. These children remain exposed to various forms of abuse while on the streets.
“The reason why they are on the streets is because there is no source of income to sustain their families and on the other side government has no budget to meet the needs of these children,” he said.
“Most vulnerable children are taken advantage of mainly because they are looking forward to receive a certain reward to sustain their lives.
“We should as well strengthen our child protection systems to be able to respond to abuse of children timeously and effectively.”