Zimbabwe Declares State Of Disaster Over Drought, Hunger

A state of disaster has been declared in most rural parts of Zimbabwe after the country has been hit by a serious drought leaving 26 percent of the population requiring food aid, according to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s government.

As reported by DW, Zimbabwe was known in the past as the “breadbasket of Africa,” but with Mugabe’s controversial land distribution program that saw white farmers evicted from their lands, things reportedly soon changed.

Many of the black Zimbabwean farmers who took over the formerly white-owned farms reportedly had insufficient training and experience to keep up production. Since then, the country has had to rely on neighboring states for grain due to the low yields in the fields.

The country is now buying up to 700,000 tons of staple maize each year in an effort to avert hunger. Now, with the worst drought in a quarter of a century in Zimbabwe, things have become far worse, with around 2.5 million rural Zimbabweans facing hunger. Many people in rural areas are struggling to get by, exchanging freshly caught fish for a handful of maize to feed their families.

By declaring a state of disaster, this allows international donors to raise money to provide food aid to Zimbabwe.

Local government minister Saviour Kasukuwere said in a statement Thursday that Zimbabwe had received less than 75 percent of normal rains, leading to up to three quarters of the country’s crops failing in some rural regions.

According to Reuters, lack of rain is also affecting dam levels, which are currently at an average capacity of 51 percent. According to Kasukuwere, the country’s largest hydro power plant at Kariba has cut back electricity generation by 62 percent.

With the number of people requiring food aid rising to 2.5 million – which makes up around 26 percent of the population – Kasukuwere went on to say in his statement that President Mugabe has now declared a state of disaster in the “severely affected areas in communal and resettlement lands of Zimbabwe effective from Feb. 2, 2016.”

The El Nino weather pattern has been affecting the whole of southern Africa, with poor rains in Zimbabwe and also South Africa, the region’s biggest maize producer.

However, despite the drought, critics in the country said there were already signs the country would face food shortages as there were insufficient reserves in place. Former finance minister Tendai Biti told DW that during his tenure in government, Zimbabwe was able to keep at least 500,000 tons of maize in reserve to be used in later years. However, he believes this is no longer the case with the current government.

According to Biti, the current state of disaster has arisen from Mugabe’s “lack of planning, his indifference and not caring for his people.”

“This is not about El Nino, it is about lack of planning and lack of oversight and foresight by a tired gerontocratic regime.”

Blessing Vava, a rights activist in Zimbabwe reiterated that while it is good the government has realized there is a food crisis in the country, this insight comes too late.

“It was known since last year that the rains will be scarce this year, so it’s quite problematic that every time our government responds late to issues like this one.”

Vava added that when looking at how the Zimbabwean government prioritizes its issues, “it appears to be out of touch with what people are facing on the ground.”

As reported in the Washington Post, current distribution of food in Zimbabwe is being used as a political weapon to punish the opposition. The Zimbabwe Peace Project, a non-governmental group, cited 135 cases of “food violations” between September to December.

They state that in Gwanda, a town which lies southwest of the capital Harare, people are being encouraged to buy ruling ZANU-PF party membership cards and to attend party meetings to enhance their chances of receiving government-funded food aid.

Many villages from the rural Mutasa district east of Harare reportedly stormed a government grain warehouse in January, demanding a cease to the politicization of food aid. Police later questioned a local lawmaker, Trevor Saruwaka of the main opposition party, MDC-T, who promised to act against such distribution problems.

[Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images]

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