Children On the Frontline
Zimbabwe’s worsening food crisis is forcing children to eat only once a day and walk for hours across dry rocky terrain to collect water, according to Save the Children, a UK based charity organization that helps save, protect and ensure survival of the most vulnerable children in the world.
What Caused Zimbabwe’s Current Crisis?
The current food emergency situation can be traced back to a severe drought that began in 2018. Without an urgent increase in humanitarian response, Save the Children is warning that lives will be lost as children and their families adopt more extreme coping mechanisms to survive.
Across the country, at least 7.7 million people in urban and rural areas are severely food insecure, including over 3.8 million children who are hungry and require urgent food assistance. Many parents have been forced to stop their children from going to school and engaged them with casual jobs to supplement their income while others drop out of school due to lack of school fees.
Michelle is 17-years-old and lives in the southern part of Zimbabwe with her nine-month-old baby. Her extended family is among the millions Zimbabweans facing a complex macro-economic crisis, the worst since 2008, with the highest inflation rate in the world according to the IMF. As a result, her family have reduced the number of meals they have each day.
“Junior is now nine months. I was pained when I found out he was underweight. I couldn’t sleep. I wasn’t expecting my child to be underweight because I was breastfeeding him. When I go to the clinic to ask for the porridge they said it’s not available,” Michelle recounted.
Millions of Eastern and Southern African Children Still Suffering from Serious Under Nutrition and Starvation
UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children report for 2019 revealed that under nutrition continues to affect tens of millions of children in Eastern and Southern Africa. In 2018 alone, 29 million children under 5 were stunted and almost 5.4 million died. The unbearable burden of malnutrition and hunger is attributed to difficult macro-economic environment, climate change and multiple humanitarian crises that included flooding, drought, and diarrhea disease outbreaks that have affected many Zimbabwean families.
William Lynch, Zimbabwe’s country director for Save the Children decried the rapid deterioration of livelihood with poor rains preceded by rampant water scarcity forcing many families and children to travel for long distance in search of water exposing them to the risk of violence and abuse.
“This is an extremely complex situation evolving in Zimbabwe, where families that had four or five ways of making a living, can no longer rely on any of them,” Lynch said, adding that his organization’s preliminary assessments have been grim. “We’ve seen spikes in unattended births and a decline in vaccinations as the health system falters.”
Africa is Being Hit Especially Hard by Climate Change
As the adverse impact of climate change continues to be felt in many parts of the world, the African continent is the most affected according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change(IPCC) and its agriculture sector is at high risk as 70 percent of the continent’s population directly rely on farming for their food security.
The latest data from FAO, the state of food security and nutrition (SOFI 2019) indicates the rapidly rising hunger in many parts of Africa. The report cited conflict and climate change as a driving factor that is pushing 133 million people to the brink of food insecurity in Eastern Africa and Africa with highest prevalence of undernourishment, at almost 20 per cent. The Global Hunger Index (GHI) rated Zimbabwe in the ‘Serious’ food insecurity category .Owing to endemic poverty, progressive low investment in the agricultural sector, and inactivity of the food production sector coupled with negative effects of droughts and other related events of climate change.
For instance, some parts of the country received erratic and uneven rainfall between November, 2019 and January, 2020, much of the rain fell on parched land, resulting in flooding and topsoil erosion, further impeding the ability of families to farm. The lean season is due to peak during January to March but is expected to last much longer as many farmers have lost their crops and will have nothing to harvest come March.
At the Africa Food Security Leadership Dialogue late last year in Rwanda, a meeting took place that aims at facilitate engagement between governments and key development partners to enhance resilience actions for Africa’s agriculture and food systems in response to climate change.
FAO’s Deputy Director-General Maria Helena Semedo pointed out the urgent need for African nations to build resilience in order to achieve a target of feeding over 2 billion people in Africans by 2050.
“Farmers have always been innovators,” Semedo said. “What they need are policies that protect them and increase their resilience to climate change.”