In-depth: United Nations Regional Inter-Agency Coordination Support Office for the Special Envoy for Humanitarian Needs in Southern Africa

ZIMBABWE: In Need of Assistance

Photo: WFP
Simangaliso Ncube with her 1 year old daughter
JOHANNESBURG, 8 March 2004 (IRIN In-Depth) - Rocking gently to quieten the tiny baby strapped to her back, Simangaliso Ncube waits patiently for the food aid distribution to start.

Crowded around her in the shade of the school’s few remaining trees are hundreds of other mothers.

Like them, Simangaliso relies almost entirely on WFP’s monthly ration to feed her family. Unlike them, Simangaliso is only 17 – but now finds herself with three other children to support.

Simangaliso comes from the Lupane district of south-western Zimbabwe. Along with five other countries in southern Africa, Zimbabwe is struggling to cope with a second successive year of severe food shortages, which have left millions of people in need of assistance.

The food crisis is the result of a complex web of factors. These include drought, the effects of the land reform programme and precipitous economic decline and the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS, which has taken a bitter toll on the agricultural work force.

“My parents both died last year from tuberculosis,” Simangaliso whispers haltingly. “My father passed away in August and then my mother in October, leaving me to look after my baby, my brother and my sister on my own.”

“It is very hard,” she says, looking out towards the sacks of maize stacked neatly in the middle of the dusty schoolyard. “We have a small field but we had no seed, no fertiliser and no draught power – so we planted nothing.”

With a 10-year old brother, 9-year old sister and 1-year old baby to feed, Simangaliso signed up for the government’s Food For Work programme. But the Z$5,000 she makes (US$1 on the black market) per month barely pays for a small bag of sugar.

“I also tried to find work on other people’s farms but everyone is suffering. The drought has left us all with nothing – even those people who were able to plant.”

Prolonged dry spells have devastated three successive maize crops in Lupane district, leaving thousands of people in this part of southwestern Zimbabwe – like Simangaliso – dependent on food aid for their survival.

Around two-thirds of Lupane’s 100,000 people are estimated to require food assistance, something WFP has been providing through its NGO Implementing Partner, World Vision, since the end of 2002. And now it looks as if operations will have to continue long after the end of the current emergency operation in June 2004.

Over the past two years, WFP has distributed over 500,000 metric tonnes of food aid to over 5 million people.

Latest estimates indicate that up to 7.5 million people across Zimbabwe are now in need of food assistance – a dramatic increase from early estimates of around 5.5 million.

WFP has enough resources to reach around 4 million beneficiaries this month and 4.5 million beneficiaries in March – the two peak hunger months before the maize harvest begins in April.

Unfortunately, widespread food insecurity seems set to continue well into 2005 following predictions of another poor harvest in many areas.

“It was difficult when my parents were alive especially when they were both sick. But it is even harder now,” says Simangaliso, echoing the feelings of so many other children across southern Africa who have watched their parents die and now find themselves as the head of their household.

“I wish I could provide food for my family but I can’t,” Simangaliso adds. “Without WFP, I have no idea how we would survive.

The swift and co-ordinated response of WFP and other aid organisations has indeed kept a major humanitarian crisis in this southern African country at bay.

“Along with its donors and partners, WFP has helped to save the lives of millions of the most vulnerable people in Zimbabwe,” says Kevin Farrell, WFP Country Director in Zimbabwe.

“But we have also helped to preserve the livelihoods of millions more by ensuring that they have not been forced to resort to negative coping mechanisms – such as migration, prostitution or pulling their children out of school – that have damaging long term consequences.”

“All these people will now be in a better position to recover once the acute food emergency is over.”
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