Harare – The Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), Ertharin Cousin, has met Zimbabwe’s leaders to discuss food insecurity in the country. It is estimated that at this point of the lean season – the pre-harvest period when many families have depleted their own-produced stocks – one in four people in rural areas is having problems meeting food needs.
“Food security and nutrition are vital for Zimbabwe’s development, and high levels of malnutrition could hold the country back from reaching its full potential,” said Cousin who arrived in Zimbabwe on Wednesday. “Grain prices are much higher than they were this time last year and some communities have no food stocks left following last season’s bad harvest.”
Some 2 million Zimbabweans are now food insecure, according to the latest Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVAC) report. WFP had planned to be assisting 1.8 million of the most vulnerable at this time but, due to funding constraints, is only able to meet the needs of 1.2 million people. Most of these are receiving reduced rations and WFP’s relief activities are being scaled back in all but the worst-affected areas.
While there is guarded optimism about next month’s harvest due to recent rains, excessive rainfall in some areas has resulted in flooding and crop damage.
The Executive Director urged both the government and the international community to ensure the most vulnerable continue to be assisted, and to provide means for communities to build resilience.
“We’re extremely grateful to those donor governments who have already given their support but needs are great,” Cousin said. “We know donors have to make tough decisions with so many simultaneous humanitarian emergencies in the world but we also ask that the less visible crises, like that in Zimbabwe, not be forgotten.”
Cousin earlier today visited Beatrice Road Infectious Diseases Hospital in Harare where she met malnourished people, including some living with HIV.
“Many of those I met face the double burden of illness and inability to provide for their families,” she said. “With WFP’s food assistance, they’re regaining weight, strength and the ability to live their lives normally.”
At a supermarket in Mbare, Cousin met families redeeming WFP food vouchers for maize, oil and beans. These vouchers allow recipients to choose food from local shops, and they include $5 ‘cash-back’ so that people can buy additional items.
“WFP is embracing innovative ways of helping those in need,” Cousin said. “We’re committed not just to feeding stomachs with more nutritious food but also to providing the tools that will ultimately give those we serve the opportunity to feed themselves and their children.”
WFP’s Health and Nutrition programme, run in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Child Care and aid agency partners, is currently assisting more than 200,000 malnourished pregnant women, nursing mothers and children under the age of five years. WFP also implements resilience-building activities in which people are supported while they work on community projects including irrigation and water harvesting schemes.
All these programmes will have to be cut back unless more donor funding is secured.