Once known as the breadbasket of Africa, Zimbabwe is now on the brink of a man-made starvation, said the UN expert of the right to food, presenting a preliminary statement after visiting the country from November 18 to 28.
“More than 60% of the population of a country once seen as the breadbasket of Africa is now considered food-insecure, with most households unable to obtain enough food to meet basic needs due to hyperinflation,” said Hilal Elver, Special Rapporteur on the right to food.
“In rural areas, a staggering 5.5 million people are currently facing food insecurity, as poor rains and erratic weather patterns are impacting harvests and livelihoods. In urban areas, an estimated 2.2 million people are food-insecure and lack access to minimum public services, including health and safe water,” she added.
The crisis continues to worsen due to poverty and high unemployment, widespread corruption, severe price instabilities, lack of purchasing power, poor agricultural productivity, natural disasters, recurrent droughts and unilateral economic sanctions.
Elver said women and children were bearing the brunt of the crisis.
It is estimated that 90% of Zimbabwean children age six months to two years are not getting the minimum acceptable diet resulting in stunted growth and being generally underweight. Children mortality from severe malnutrition has also been rising in the past few months.
The Special Rapporteur have observed that in desperation, some women and children are resorting to coping mechanisms that violate their most fundamental human rights and freedoms. School drop-outs, early marriage, domestic violence, prostitution and sexual exploitation are on the rise throughout Zimbabwe.
Elver said people she met in the drought-affected areas of Masvingo and Mwenezi, located in the driest regions of the country, told her they ate only one portion of cooked maize a day.
Women, the elderly and children are barely able to meet their minimum food needs and are largely dependent on food assistance, while most of the men are abroad seeking work, she added.
The Special Rapporteur said the crisis in Zimbabwe’s cities was no less severe than in rural areas.
She also said that she received “disturbing” information that public hospitals have been reaching out to humanitarian organizations after their own medicine and food stocks were exhausted.
There are also indications that the distribution of lands or food had been manipulated for political ends throughout the last two decades, favoring those who support the ruling political party.
Zimbabwe counts amongst the four highest food insecure States, alongside conflict ravaged countries, the expert noted. (Source: OHCHR)