World, Africa

Zimbabweans struggle amid worst drought in memory

Faced with failed crops, dying cattle and starvation, families search for ways to survive

Jeffrey Moyo   | 21.03.2019
Zimbabweans struggle amid worst drought in memory

MWENEZI, Zimbabwe

First came the heat that withered the crops and dried up lakes and dams.

Then came the ordeal of watching cattle die and seeing children starve.

This is how Mirirai Chuma has spent her days.

For the 45-year-old widow from Mwenezi district in Zimbabwe’s Masvingo Province, it never rains as a severe drought pummels the region and burdens her family.

Yet she is not alone. The UN World Food Programme (UNWFP) says around 5.5 million people in Zimbabwe face starvation this year in both rural and urban areas.

Even regions that have rarely experienced drought have not been spared this year, including the three provinces of northern Mashonaland.

Development experts like Owen Dhliwayo say this could be Zimbabwe’s worst drought in 30 years.

In 1992, Zimbabwe was hit by a drought that killed more than one million cattle and left more than five million people in need of food aid.

Now, with the latest drought wreaking havoc across the country, many have fallen on hard times.

They include Chuma, who has lost a herd of cattle that she inherited from her late husband.

“We have no food. The only cattle we had died due to the drought, and I don’t know what to do,” the mother of five told Anadolu Agency.

For many drought-hit Zimbabweans like Chuma, their cattle have always been their main source of labor during planting seasons, drawing the plough.

Cyclone Idai, which hit Zimbabwe in particular, did not spare the remaining crops around the affected areas, worsening the country’s drought situation, according to experts.

“Nobody is talking of the cattle that were also washed away and destroyed by the cyclone. Not even the crops that had remained on the fields before the floods hit,” Hector Mukarati, an agricultural extension officer based in Chimanimani, told Anadolu Agency.

Chimanimani, a district in Manicaland Province, was ravaged by the recent cyclone that left over 100 people dead and hundreds missing.

Zimbabwe’s drought this year is even being felt in towns and cities, hitting many urban dwellers like 78-year-old Dairai Chimhanda in Harare’s low-income suburb of Highfields.

“I used to depend on my field here in the city, planting maize for food, because I am no longer working and my pension was eroded by inflation and can’t sustain me anymore,” Chimhanda told Anadolu Agency.

“With drought in the country now, even my urban field here has not been spared,” he added.

Consequently, for Chimhanda, starvation has become a new hurdle to face as he looks after six orphaned grandchildren, with his wife and two children dead.

With city dams drying up, for many like Chimhanda, the effects of the drought have also brought with them a new hurdle to contend with: water woes.

Of Zimbabwe’s estimated 16 million people, about five million live in towns and cities and, like Chimhanda, have not been spared by this year’s drought.

According to the UNWFP, 1.5 million Zimbabweans living in urban areas are grappling with severe food shortages in the face of the country’s shattered economy.

The UN has said there is a rising number of people classified as “severely food insecure” across Zimbabwe’s towns and cities, which the organization attributed to the poor start to the 2018/19 agricultural season due to widespread rainfall deficits of 15 percent to 45 percent below long-term averages observed across the country.

Contending with the drought pounding Zimbabwe, this year, the UN launched the Zimbabwe Flash Appeal, which is seeking US$234 million to provide urgent food, health, water, sanitation, hygiene and protection support to 2.2 million people out of the 5.5 million that face serious food shortages.

But Zimbabwe’s monetary and fiscal policies recently announced by the country’s central bank along with a rise in fuel prices may have exacerbated the drought, with food prices shooting up.

Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Agriculture has said that maize harvests beginning in April this year may be less than one million tons compared with 1.7 million tons last year, a sad development for drought-hit widows like Chuma.

“It’s hard. Maybe with this hunger, I won’t last with my children,” she said.

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