ZIMBABWE: "If cholera doesn't, hunger will finish us"
Food is increasingly scarce
Harare, 8 December 2008 (IRIN) - "I am afraid that if we won't all die of cholera, then hunger will finish off those that remain," said a miserable Givemore Nyakudya, who lost his daughter to cholera three weeks ago, while the UN World Food Programme (WFP) announced that it had failed to raise enough money to feed the nearly half a million Zimbabweans in need of food.
Zimbabwe is in the grip of a cholera outbreak that has claimed the lives of 589 people; 13,960 cases had been reported in nine of Zimbabwe's 10 provinces, according to a World Health Organisation (WHO) bulletin.
"If people are not on full rations, the numbers of malnourished are going to increase - more Zimbabweans are going to become vulnerable and susceptible to disease," said Richard Lee, the WFP spokesman in Southern Africa. "It will make it much harder for them to fight cholera."
The food agency has little choice; it had expected to raise enough money to feed 4.2 million beneficiaries in December, and up to 5.1 million Zimbabweans – more than half the country's population - by January 2009, but has managed to find money to feed only 3.7 million Zimbabweans.
|If people are not on full rations, the numbers of malnourished are going to increase - more Zimbabweans are going to become vulnerable and susceptible to disease
"To ensure that families at least have some food rather than no food at all, we have decided to cap the rations to a maximum of six per household, rather than exclude entire households," Lee said.
In November the monthly ration per person was cut from 12kg of maize-meal to 10kg, and from 1.8kg of beans to 1kg. "We will continue with the cut rations – we still don't know what will happen next month [January 2009]," he said, adding that the agency was considering other options, including borrowing money or food.
Nyakudya, a municipal worker in the capital, Harare, whose two other children have also contracted cholera, said he is no longer "fussy" about what his family ate, as long as they did not starve.
The agency was still trying to determine why donors have failed to respond to the crisis. "It could be any number of reasons – the global recession - the focus is also now on the crisis in the Horn of Africa," said Lee.
The Toronga family in the village of Poshayi, 450km southwest of Harare, had hoped food would be coming when an NGO collected the names of villagers in preparation for food distribution, but their spirits fell when they were told that food stocks had run out.
On 4 June, a few weeks ahead of the second round of voting in the presidential ballot on 27 June, the ZANU-PF government of President Robert Mugabe imposed a blanket ban on all NGO operations for alleged political bias against the government, with the exception of those doing HIV/AIDS-related work. Mugabe, the only candidate, won the run-off ballot but the election was widely condemned as flawed. The ban on some NGOs was lifted on 29 August.
Food running out
"I heard that nearby villagers had actually been given maize-meal and cooking oil by an NGO, and I was relieved that my family would have food to eat," said Samuel Toronga, who works in Harare as a shop assistant and is now at a loss over how to feed his family.
Two weeks ago, when the family's food stocks were almost exhausted, his wife was forced to visit him in Harare. "I had gone for two months without communicating with my family because there is no means to do that - there are no buses, you cannot phone, and you hardly find people to send word with these days because travelling has become so expensive," he said.
"My wife had no option but to borrow money from neighbours in order to come and collect food, but the problem is that I am struggling to get the money to buy the food here. Now I can't even raise enough for her to go back to the children, who were left with hardly enough to live on for three days," he added.
"Sadly, I have to spend sleepless nights thinking how best I can get money to buy the food, which is mostly sold in foreign currency."
Innocent Makwiramiti, a Harare-based economist, said the numbers of food insecure were going to rise because NGOs did not have the capacity to roll out food. "It is common cause that the government cannot avail food to the needy people, who for many years have depended on humanitarian assistance from NGOs."
According to WHO, the main causes of the current cholera outbreak are a lack of clean drinking water and sanitation, weak health services, and a health staff strike, mainly by nurses. Health staff, who are unable to draw salaries from banks due to the acute shortage of banknotes, cannot afford to travel to work.
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions announced on 8 December that after consultations with the Reserve bank of Zimbabwe, as from 12 January 2009, workers will be able to withdraw all their salaries upon presentation of their pay-slips.