Harare, Zimbabwe – Zimbabwe’s food security situation poses a potential threat to national security and can cause civil unrest and general insecurity in the country, a top United Nations envoy warned.
The UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver, who was in the troubled Southern African country from November 18-28, said the food security situation could potentially worsen by the end of the year.
In her preliminary findings, she said the international community should scale up humanitarian aid to eliminate hunger and malnutrition in the country.
“Finally, let me echo the words of a government official I met in Harare: ‘food security is national security’. Never has this been truer than in today’s Zimbabwe. Food insecurity and land conflict increase the risks of civil unrest and insecurity,” Elver said in her report.
“The international community must scale up its humanitarian assistance and provide for most of the resources needed to eliminate hunger and malnutrition in times of food emergency.
“I urgently call on the government and the international community to come together to put an end to this spiralling crisis before it morphs into a full-blown social unrest.”
She said early warning mechanisms to monitor the economic and social rights of the citizens should be put in place to prevent further suffering.
Elver said the food security situation in urban areas was a cause for concern, saying the currency crisis, a heavy tax system, unpredictable inflation rates, high levels of unemployment and low wages had worsened the food crisis affecting urban households.
Zimbabwe adopted the use of the US dollar in 2009 after hyperinflation drastically reduced the value of the local currency.
But “dollarising” the economy hit a major bump in 2015 when greenbacks started vanishing from the formal banking system.
In a bid to end the US dollar shortage, Zimbabwe’s central bank introduced bond notes – a form of surrogate currency – that was backed by a $200m bond facility from the Africa Export-Import Bank.
But black market speculation quickly eroded the bond note’s value, triggering a shortage that the central bank tried to offset by creating electronic notes.
Then this past February, bond notes – both physical and electronic – were merged into the Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) dollar, also known as the Zimdollar.
In June, the government moved to defend the Zimdollar against speculators by banning all foreign currencies in local transactions. But the effort has largely failed after the Zimdollar quickly fell prey to black market speculation that sent its value plummeting.
The Zimbabwe dollar is currently trading at 1:20 against the US dollar on the black market.
“As economic inequalities are on the rise, the once thriving middle-class of Zimbabwe is severely impacted by the crisis. Civil servants, doctors, nurses, and teachers are no longer able to feed their families without alternative sources of livelihood,” she said.
The situation, according to Elver, is so bad in the urban areas that several people are surviving on just one meal.
“Many of the people I spoke to in Harare, told me that they could only afford one meal a day,” she said.
“I witnessed the consequences of the disastrous economic crisis on the streets of Harare, with people spending long hours queuing for fuel, as well in front of banks to get cash, and in shops to obtain cooking gas or water.”
Elver said several Zimbabweans she spoke to in Harare, the capital of the Southern African country, told her while food was readily available in supermarkets, inflation of up to 490 percent had made them “food insecure”.
According to Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVAC), urban food insecurity is now affecting 2.2 million people.
She also raised concern that some of the country’s citizens were living under what she described as inhumane conditions.
Scores of people who escaped from poor rural areas and moved to the cities in search of job opportunities to improve their access to sufficient and adequate food and other public services had ended up living in informal settlements that are multiplying in the suburbs of Harare, the report said.
Among other things, spreadable diseases are seen increasing because of the use of unsafe and inefficient water and open sewage.
“I visited one of the settlements located south of Harare. Approximately 5,000 people were living in inhuman conditions without any infrastructure, without jobs, without hope, and help,” said Elver.
“One resident of Chikos, told me that ‘I do not think they even know we exist’. Most of the public schools in Harare are no longer able to continue their school feeding programmes. At best, some schools are able to offer one meal a week per classroom.”
The report paints a desperately gloomy picture of the humanitarian situation in the country.
“The most vulnerable segments of society, including the elderly, children and women, are forced to rely upon coping mechanisms such as, school dropout, early marriage, and sex trade to obtain food, behavioural patterns that often are accompanied by domestic violence,” she said.
“This kind of struggle for subsistence affects their physical wellbeing and self-respect. It creates behaviour and conditions that violate their most fundamental human rights.”
A total of 60 percent of Zimbabwe’s 14 million population is considered food-insecure and living in a household that is unable to obtain enough food to meet basic needs.
By the end of this year, the food security situation is expected to “worsen” with an estimated eight million people requiring urgent action to reduce food consumptions gaps and save livelihoods.
According to recent data released by the ZimVAC, 5.5 million people, 38 percent of the rural population, is currently facing food insecurity.
Periodic droughts, poor rains and erratic weather patterns have been blamed on last season’s poor agricultural production.
The number of food-insecure people is expected to almost double in early 2020 compared with the same period in the prior year. The peasant community, which produces 70 percent of staple foods (maize, millet and groundnuts), is particularly vulnerable.
It has access to less than 5 percent of irrigation facilities, and is struggling to access productive resources due to cash shortages, Elver said.
She added widespread poverty, limited employment opportunities, liquidity challenges, pervasive corruption, economic instability, mismanagement of funds, natural disasters, recurrent droughts, and economic sanctions and conditionalities by the US and the EU all contributed to Zimbabwe’s current crisis.