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 Thursday 04 October 2007
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ZIMBABWE: Charities lend the elderly a hand

Photo: IRIN
The elderly are unable to cope with the food shortages
BULAWAYO, 2 October 2007 (IRIN) - Despite help from relatives abroad, Zimbabwe's elderly people are struggling to cope with food shortages and high transport costs, brought on by an inflation rate of more than 6,000 percent, and a lack of fuel and foreign exchange that make it difficult for most to obtain even basic essentials, prompting charities to lend a helping hand.

"Even if I have [money], where will I get the food I need?" asked Theresa Malunga, 74, who survives on remittances from her son overseas. "I wish my son knew what the situation here is like and would send me food parcels instead."

Louise Campbell of Supporting Old Aged People (SOAP), a voluntary organisation based in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second city, commented, "It is no exaggeration to say that there is virtually no food available at all." Although vegetables are readily available in supermarkets, "anything else is a case of 'making a plan', if you have money and transport," she said.

Empty shelves in the shops mean the elderly may often have no other option than to seek help, Campbell said. "We are now finding that people outside the country are ... [sending] food parcels for their elderly relatives here. Although they have the money, they are unable to find food."

SOAP is part of a network of charity organisations that help pay pensioner's rates, water, electricity and sewerage bills. "At the moment we are coping. We don't know for how long, but people have been kind," said Campbell.

It also helps aged pensioners who cannot survive on their monthly pensions, which keep dwindling in value: some get less than a US$1 a month. The charity delivers groceries and other basic items like tea, coffee, cereals, bath and laundry soap, as well as drugs purchased with donations from well-wishers, to the homes of 170 elderly people in Bulawayo.

A number of pensioners living in homes for the elderly, but who do not receive food in these institutions, also benefit. "We are coping with hope," said Campbell. Some relatives overseas also send parcels of drugs to bridge the shortage gap for those who need constant medication.

''Even if I have [money], where will I get the food I need ?''
Prices keep going up

According to a situation report by the United States Aid agency (USAID) this week, Zimbabwe is increasingly unable to provide the fuel and maintain the infrastructure necessary for agricultural production, water and sanitation services, and power facilities.

Last month, the Central Statistical Office (CSO) reported that inflation had slowed to around 6,500 percent in August, from a peak of about 7,300 percent a few months before.

A few commodities are slowly finding their way back onto city shop shelves after government ended price controls in August. Some shops stock imported products like milk formulas, chocolates, detergents and tinned foods, all from neighbouring South Africa and Botswana.

But the prices, denominated in the fickle parallel market exchange rate for the South African rand, are way out of reach for most. According to a USAID-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) report, most staple foods can only be found in the informal market at prices beyond levels the majority of the population can afford.

"As a result of the poor October 2006 to March 2007 agricultural season, families in the most drought-affected areas of western and southern Zimbabwe have depleted household food stocks, and have limited access to the markets due to high staple food prices," report said.

In meantime, pensioners like Malunga rely on cross-border traders to bring them basic commodities from Botswana or South Africa.


Theme(s): (IRIN) Economy, (IRIN) Food Security


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
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