Editorial Comment: UN support for drought mitigation efforts welcome Local Government and Public Works Minister Daniel Garwe (centre) and United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Zimbabwe, Edward Kallon (left), shake hands after signing a joint appeal for food aid in Harare while Civil Protection Unit acting director, Mr Farai Okonya (right), looks on.

ZIMBABWE and most countries face potential food shortages over the next 10 months due to the El Nino-induced drought that has hit the central SADC belt the hardest.

Initial estimates were that Zimbabwe would need to mobilise and spend around US$2 billion in a wide range of programmes to combat the drought, bring the entire population through the difficult times, and build extra resilience so that the next drought, and there will be one, will be far easier to manage and overcome.

Around 40 percent of the required funds would be the actual food aid to the affected households whose crops were devastated or whose livestock was not going to provide the sort of income usually required to buy food. 

But the programmes went far beyond just making sure that every person in every hit household had 7,5kg of maize a month until the first fruits of the next harvest were being reaped. For a start, and still in the food line, there is now a programme to make sure that every rural schoolchild gets one decent hot meal a day at school.

This ensures that the children not only come to school, but once there are learning rather than beating back the pangs of hunger. 

Educationally it seems to makes sense to make this programme permanent even in good years, when admittedly more families can contribute food or cash, to offset those long distances some rural children must walk each day.

Other parts of the programme are to extend the urban support schemes, which are cash transfers so the vulnerable can buy mealie meal, since those who used to rely on family to help out no longer get the odd sack of grain from a farming sibling. 

Then there is the need to cope with more children needing support for school fees, since their parents will not be making money from selling crops. The Government is also very keen on extending irrigation, both the watering of farmland and the storage capacity of impounded water in dams, so that more and more of Zimbabwe’s food, and this includes the fodder for livestock, is grown under full or partial irrigation. 

This will also ensure that climate change and the predicted resulting rise in the frequency of drought years is not so devastating.

The Government, and the nation at large, were prepared to bite the bullet and raise the necessary funds, often by deferring a lot of other vitally needed development and even some services. The President made it clear that no one would go hungry and that having enough food for everyone was the first priority.

But from the very beginning of the emergency, when President Mnangagwa declared the state of disaster, and seeing this reinforced in the recent SADC emergency Summit with its call for support, there has been hope that development partners will be able to help Zimbabwe carry the burden.

This was seen being converted into a practical operation this week with the signing with the United Nations of a US$429,3 million Drought Flash Appeal for humanitarian partners to assist around 3,1 million of the estimated 7 million or more people who are food insecure.

It needs to be noted that Zimbabwe will still be required to bear the heavier share of the burden to cope with the drought, as is fitting, but that the support that can now be reasonably expected via the United Nations family will be a major and important input.

The very precise total for the necessary funding, about US$429,3 million, also suggests that the programmes grouped under the flash appeal have been very precisely costed by both the Zimbabwe Government and the United Nations, something that should appeal to those who are prepared to contribute. They can look at the list and then make their commitments.

We have found over the past few years of the Second Republic that we can expect some help in disasters and for humanitarian assistance because for a start this help is there to supplement what we are already doing ourselves.

Secondly, we now account for every cent we spend, so every dollar of support contributed gives full value for money with nothing sticking to anyone’s fingers.

The serious involvement of the United Nations itself is a major boost, a sort of guarantee that the sums have been done properly, the Zimbabwean commitment has been made, that the support will reach those who need it, and that everything will be tightly managed and properly accounted for. 

Many of those who may be willing to help out do not have the facilities to do the work themselves, but at the same time want to know that support will get, in full, to those they have agreed to help. The UN family oversight is thus important.

In the past, some support from some of the countries that imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe has been channelled through the relevant UN agencies and this option no doubt still exists for such countries, although most of the channelling will be for those contributors who do not have a widespread network in Zimbabwe but still want to help.

Zimbabweans must understand that we are not being let off the hook by the support we are getting and hope to get.

We will still have to make a very major effort to both cope with the drought and to continue building the sort of resilience that we need to cope with the longer-term climate change. 

Perhaps we could look at that major effort we made, as a nation, to handle Covid-19.

We committed ourselves to what was required, but that commitment, backed by the organisational efforts and logistics of the health authorities, meant that outsiders were willing to help, and the Zimbabwe private sector made some serious interventions.

The result was two-fold: we coped with the actual pandemic rather well with both critical care for the ill, the sacrifices we were prepared to make to limit spread of infection and the willingness to be vaccinated. But we also upgraded our entire public health system, and all those improvements we have kept going along with the culture of continuing the upgrading all the time, not just in emergencies. 

The drought requires the same sort of national effort: We need to make sure no one goes hungry or misses school and here because we are organised and have made a significant national effort, we are getting support from outside as well.

At the same time we need to upgrade our entire farming system and then retain that culture of continuing improvements so the next drought will be far less damaging and far easier to cope with.

You Might Also Like