In the U.S., El Niño has just caused some warm weather and a few severe storms, but in Zimbabwe, it has worsened a food crisis in which four million people don’t have enough to eat. And that number could get much worse.
The food crisis is being blamed both on the weather and government policies. According to Oxfam’s Jan Vossen, hundreds of thousands of people in Zimbabwe go hungry even when the weather cooperates.
“We also have to look at chronic and structural aspects of food insecurity. Even in a normal rain year there are 700,000 people in Zimbabwe that are food insecure and face difficulties to make ends meet.”
In other words, the country was already amid a food crisis when El Niño hit, and the government was ill-prepared to cope, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
Rights activist Blessing Vava said that the Zimbabwe government has known since last year that 2016 would see a drought, but “if you look at how the government prioritizes its issues it appears to be out of touch with what people are facing on the ground.”
“This is not about El Niño, it is about lack of planning and lack of oversight and foresight by a tired gerontocratic regime,” added former Finance Minister Tendai Biti.
The result is a food crisis of shocking proportions. BBC News reported that Zimbabwe has seen two years of failed rains, this year’s caused by the weather pattern, which has hampered the production of food. This year’s harvest will produce a very low yield as well, likely exacerbating the crisis later in the year.
In Zimbabwe’s rural areas, people are known to keep reserves in case of such shortages, but now, those reserves have been diminished, Agence France-Press added.
As a result of these factors, the number of people in Zimbabwe now in need of food assistance has jumped to four million, up from last year’s staggering figure of 1.5 million people suffering under the food crisis, the UN reported. That calculates to 37 percent of households in Zimbabwe.
Families are responding to the crisis by skipping meals to save food, and schoolchildren are reportedly too hungry to go to school. Among kids between the ages of 1 and 2, severe acute malnutrition is rampant. Up to 33,000 children are reportedly in need of urgent treatment, and the UN Children’s Fund has issued a warning.
“Severe acute malnutrition” is extreme hunger that leads to visible wasting and fluid retention. Lack of water is also becoming a problem, and as a result, children are suffering from higher risk of typhoid, diarrhea, and waterborne disease like cholera, said UNICEF’s Zimbabwe representative Jane Muita.
“We have not seen these levels of malnutrition in more than 15 years.”
To ease the food crisis, Zimbabwe has turned to neighbors South Africa and Botswana for imports, but everyone in the region is suffering through a drought.
President Robert Mugabe, who was criticized for throwing himself an $800,000 birthday party recently rather than using the funds to feed his people, has declared a “state of disaster” and is appealing for $1.6 billion in aid.
So far, the UN Development Program has responded with $60 million in food aid last month and plans to raise another $130 million. Meanwhile, the UN has also warned that if more isn’t done to alleviate the food crisis, rates of malnutrition in Zimbabwe are at risk of “spiraling out of control.”
A major factor contributing to the crisis is a circa-2000 land reform policy of Mugabe’s, which removed white farmers from their land and gave it back to black farmers. However, these people didn’t have the experience necessary to properly cultivate their newly acquired farms.
[Photo by Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP]