Govt, partners tackle El Nino head-on

Special Correspondent
A multi-stakeholders meeting, jointly hosted by the Office of the President and Cabinet and the UN System in Zimbabwe, held yesterday called for scaling up of humanitarian assistance to address the immediate needs of 2,8 million (30 percent of the total population) drought-affected people.

Addressing over 170 senior representatives from Government; diplomatic corps; development and humanitarian partners; civil society organisations; non-governmental organisations; private sector; and the media; the UN Resident and UNDP Resident Representative, Bishow Parajuli, emphasised that “the drought conditions in many parts of the country have been unprecedented and have severely increased the vulnerability of the poor depriving them of their livelihoods including livestock and agricultural production as well as access to water, nutrition, health and education services”.

Like many parts of the Southern Africa region, Zimbabwe has been hard-hit by the effects of El Nino, with harvests devastated. The current rainfall season has so far been the driest in the last 35 years rendering over 28 million people food-insecure in the region. The late onset of rains in Zimbabwe apparently reported to be below normal, coupled with higher than average temperatures, has severely affected the prospect of 2015-2016 crop production, livestock and rural livelihoods.

Cognisant of the dire drought situation, Deputy Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet Rtd Col Christian Katsande said that the Government has declared a state of national emergency with effect from February 3, 2016. The national declaration of emergency allowed for the establishment of a standing Cabinet Committee on Emergency Response chaired by Vice President E. D. Mnangagwa.

The Cabinet Committee has been mandated to coordinate responses and programmes which include: food importation and related logistics; social protection; emergency safe water supply, under-five nutrition and school meal programme; emergency irrigation rehabilitation and production; livestock support and destocking; wildlife relief as well as emergency rural roads repair and maintenance for improved accessibility.

Reiterating the Government’s commitment and leadership on the ongoing concerted joint efforts to tackle the effects of the drought, Col Katsande called on the UN and humanitarian partners to scale up their responses to address the increasing immediate needs of the affected population in the areas of: agriculture; food; health; water, sanitation and hygiene; nutrition; child protection; and education.

In addition to the looming food insecurity, during the past months, livestock condition and consequently livestock prices have decreased significantly in some parts as a result of poor grazing and water shortages. The highest livestock deaths recorded due to drought is in Masvingo province with 12 373 animals reported dead (50 percent of reported national deaths).

The drought has also impacted negatively on water supplies. Water availability for domestic use is inadequate. Nationally, 81 percent of households reported unavailability of water for agricultural purposes (irrigation schemes and gardens). Masvingo province reported the highest levels (90 percent) of inadequate water for agriculture.

Water has become more scarce with households being forced to rely on unprotected sources, and health risks related to water-borne diseases is on the increase, albeit contained thus far. A recent typhoid outbreak in Harare resulted in 291 suspected typhoid cases in February. In the same period, a total of 402 suspected and 38 confirmed cases and one death have been reported across the country.

The eroded productive capacity of vulnerable farming households and the increased food prices have resulted in higher rates of malnutrition especially in the most food insecure districts. Based on prevalence estimates, nationally 99 243 children under the age of five, are estimated to be acutely malnourished. The Severely Acute Malnutrition rate of 2,1 percent, up from 1,5 percent the previous year, is likely to increase in 2016.

Some children’s education will be adversely affected by the food shortages: For example, an estimated 6 000 children in Matabeleland North are skipping classes, citing hunger and the need to help out with house or farm work.

In some of the worst affected districts, the impact of the drought is reflected in declining school attendance and concentration levels. Therefore, the main priority at this stage is to ensure children remain in school and continue to learn. The introduction of school meals would go a long way in alleviating the situation.

In response to the prevailing severe drought, the UN agencies – with support from development partners and in cooperation with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) – have reached more than one million affected people with $76 million in funding from partners, including US/USAID, UK/DFID, EU/ECHO and the UN Central Emergency Response Fund. The UN and humanitarian partners have prepared a revised Humanitarian Response Plan, which identifies the priority humanitarian needs of over $350 million, for the period April 2016 to March 2017. This is aimed at complementing national efforts to scale up relief efforts to reach those who are most affected and vulnerable groups.

In response to the joint call by the Government and the UN to scale up relief efforts, Chinese Ambassador to Zimbabwe Huang Ping announced that the Government of China will provide rice worth $24,6 million. In addition, USAID Director in Zimbabwe Stephanie Funk informed the meeting that the US government has, thus far, committed $40 million and announced that the support will be substantially increased in the coming period. Moreover, the European Union, the government of Brazil and UK-AID confirmed their further commitment to the ongoing humanitarian response.

Going forward, there is need to break the interlinked cycle of poverty and food insecurity. This calls for some key policy and investment choices that can accelerate the achievement of food security and global target of zero hunger challenge, including: diversification and marketing of maize and other agricultural produce; community and women’s ownership of arable land; an institutionalised social security system to protect the poorest and most vulnerable populations; investments in farmer extension services, credit facilities for farming families and business skills to support jobs creation; and sustainable and climate smart cropping patterns to trigger continued growth in the rural economy.

Impressed by the resilience of the farming communities that he observed first-hand during the recent visit to Matabeleland North, and after witnessing the impact of some of the UN and NGO partners supported community asset building projects, the UN Resident Coordinator said: “While we should scale up our immediate humanitarian response to save lives and ring-fence the gains made in the social sector over the past years, we should aim at redoubling public and private investments as well as lure foreign direct investment and maintain official development assistance to build resilient, inclusive and sustainable economy as the recurrent natural disasters could be the new normal.”- C

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