WFP boosts food and cash assistance as ElNino's grip on Zimbabwe tightens
Vulnerable people in Zimbabwe will continue to receive relief assistance from the United Nations' World Food Programme (WFP) through what is usually a period of bounty but which this year has turned into a time of want. WFP is extending its relief programme due to the punishing impact of El Niño on the food security of the country.
WFP's seasonal relief, designed to help vulnerable people through the difficult pre-harvest months, usually runs from October to March. This year — for the first time ever — the programme will continue running throughout the year and into next year.
The unprecedented decision is in response to last month's announcement by the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVAC) that 2.8 million people — more than a quarter of the rural population — do not have enough to eat and have little or no guaranteed access to food. WFP is this month providing food and cash-based assistance to some 730,000 vulnerable people. Operations are being scaled up to reach an estimated 2.2 million people in the early months of next year, with the Government and development partners assisting the rest.
“Many rural communities are in the grip of hunger and this is set to continue into next year,” said Eddie Rowe, WFP Country Director in Zimbabwe. “We're working with the government and donors to mobilize assistance to the most vulnerable but to reach all those in need we are dependent on the donor community continuing to fund our operations.”
The country's high level of food insecurity is due to last year's bad harvest — 50 percent down on that of the previous year — combined with an unusually strong El Niño weather event which has resulted in reduced rains for southern Africa. Coinciding as it has with the main part of the growing season, El Niño-related drought has been disastrous for smallholder farmers dependent on rain-fed agriculture.
Next month's harvest is predicted to be poor in many countries including Zimbabwe — Geoglam (the Global Agricultural Monitoring Initiative) forecasts that the April/May maize harvest in southern and eastern parts of the country will be a “failure”.
Though the full impact of El Niño will not be measurable until after the harvest, the drought has already taken a toll, causing the deaths of thousands of cattle and reducing the incomes of people who rely on casual agricultural work to feed their families. Prevalence of acute malnutrition among children aged under five stands at 5.7 percent, the highest level in 15 years. There are also reports of many children dropping out of school because of hunger.
WFP provides both food and cash, depending on market conditions. The advantages of the cash-based transfers are that they allow families to choose their own purchases and inject money into the local economy. Increasingly, WFP is making the transfers using mobile money. More than half a million people are currently receiving cash transfers or a combination of cash and food from WFP.
WFP is also working with rural communities to strengthen their resilience to climactic shocks. This is the fourth year of WFP's Productive Asset Creation programme which provides training on the creation and rehabilitation of assets including vegetable gardens and irrigation schemes. This year, some 30,000 households are receiving food and cash assistance while participating in the scheme.
For WFP to provide assistance through to March 2017, US$220 million in funding will be required. WFP is grateful for contributions already received from the Government of Zimbabwe as well as (in alphabetical order) Canada, Switzerland, the UN Central Emergency Response Fund and the United States.