Stanely Mushava Features Correspondent
A shallow well in the sun-sapped sand bed of what was Dewure River this time yesteryear is the emergency sanctuary for drought-hit villagers.
Dewure, the largest river in Gutu, has not been spared the searing temperatures which have left lifeless trail across the country this cropping season.
The improvised water source, adjacent to the bridge, gets one wondering: If El Nino does this in a green tree what has it already done in a dry one?
Sadly, there are limits to the human capacity for improvisation. In the nearby Mahaka village under Chief Nyamandi people can only hope for a hand from someplace. Cattle are literally grazing sand and when they succumb to the debilitating impact of the drought, some parts have to be discarded.
“Cattle are dying for lack of water and pasture and those that succumb are found with sand in their stomachs,” says Levison Chiremba, a Nyahuni villager says.
“Just this morning, an ox died a few households away and villagers were called to see what they can do,” he says.
A beast previously sold for $100 in the early stages is now selling for $20 but it is still difficult to secure a buyer because the cattle are too thin.
Although the cattle pen is the African family’s traditional bank, their falling in the dry pastures is not even the final catastrophe. Increasingly, the immediate headache is where to find food for the day.
“A bucket of maize now costs $10 and even that is not affordable. We need to contribute at least in threes in order to raise that money,” Chiremba says.
“The other problem is shortage of water. The borehole needs more power to draw water. Even with three people pumping, the borehole can take 45 minutes,” he says. Schools used to offer daily rations for students to withstand hunger are no longer doing so.
“Children are failing to learn because they have nothing to eat. They only get one meal per day,” says Robert Nyabadza. Presence Mpandawana concurs: “Starvation is affecting our education because students are coming to school hungry. They cannot study on empty stomachs.”
Most farmers across the country can only look at the situation in dismay.
Recent assessments by Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVAC) revealed that, 2,82 million Zimbabweans, equivalent to one third of the rural population, are food-insecure as the cropping season was jeopardised by the most debilitating El Nino in years.
In Southern Africa, 28 million did not have enough food to eat as at the close of 2015 and the outlook is bleak as most crops have already failed. According to the World Food Programme, prevalence of acute malnutrition among children aged under five in Zimbabwe stands at 5,7 percent, the highest level in 15 years.
Nyabadza says some children in Nyahuni are dropping out of school because of hunger, which confirms reports to that effect in other parts of the country by aid agencies.
On March 15, Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Council of Ministers declared a regional disaster in response to food insecurity, in a move that is expected to help mobilise for interventions. SADC Council of Ministers chairperson Honourable O.K Matambo said during the post-council media briefing that the regional body had adopted measures to mitigate natural disasters, particularly drought and food security. He said the council also approved the issuing of Statement of Appeal for assistance by Summit through the SADC chairperson consultation.
“Council also approved the establishment of a regional logistics team to coordinate a regional response in close collaboration with member states and international cooperating partners,” Matambo said.
The SADC Council of Ministers also invited member states to provide immediate relief to meet the food and non-food requirements of the vulnerable populations in order to facilitate logistics and resource mobilisation, and scale up climate smart technologies on agriculture, energy, water and other pillar sectors. Aid agencies have called on SADC governments to act swiftly, collaboratively, and generously in response to the declaration of a regional disaster by the Council of Ministers. Oxfam, Save the Children and Care issued a joint statement on Thursday last week warning stakeholders that if urgent interventions are not executed the number of food-insecure populations could quickly rise to 49 million.
“SADC’s declaration of a regional emergency must be a clarion call for donors, national governments and the humanitarian community to act faster,” said Save the Children’s East and Southern Africa regional director David Wright.
“The current El Niño is now the strongest on record, leaving millions in the path of severe droughts and destructive flooding which threaten the lives of families and children across the world. Without help, many children face hunger, disease, and futures deprived of the opportunities provided by education and protection.”
The agencies noted that the strength of El Nino is set to decrease over the first part of 2016 but its impact on people’s lives will be felt much longer.
Oxfam’s Daniel Sinnathamby said a lot of work is already underway to ensure that affected populations, especially women and children, can access enough food over the coming weeks and months, but much more need to be done to be equal to the challenge.
“This current phenomenon is a strong sign of what we can expect from a climate-changed world – we need to meet people’s immediate needs but we must address the longer-term issues which have made men, women and children in Southern Africa chronically vulnerable,” Sinnathamby warned.
“It is increasingly difficult for people to access affordable staple foods across the region, therefore these measures are vital so that more people are able to cope, and ultimately survive,” he added.
Care’s East, Central and Southern Africa regional director Emma Naylor-Ngugi said her organisation is especially concerned about the impact of the crisis on women and girls:
“Increasingly families are skipping meals and eating wild fruits to get by.”
The World Food Programme (WFP), which currently assists 80 million people in 80 countries has pledged more food and cash assistance for Zimbabwe.
“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 said in statement on Wednesday last week. The humanitarian agency’s seasonal relief for vulnerable populations through difficult pre-harvest months, usually runs from October to March. WFP announced that in this year, for the first time ever, the programme will continue running throughout the year and into 2017.
“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,” the organisation said in the statement.
“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,”
WFP Zimbabwe country director Eddie Rowe said rural communities in the country his organisation is working with Government and donors to mobilise assistance to the most vulnerable. The humanitarian agency is also working with rural communities to strengthen their resilience to climactic shocks. There is also widespread belief that resource-rich SADC countries must tap into their drought-proof repositories to meet the food requirements of their populations.