HARARE - The United Nations World Food Program is appealing for an additional $250 million in emergency aid to help millions of Zimbabweans at risk of starvation. The WFP says the COVID-19 pandemic is worsening an already severe hunger crisis in the southern African nation.
Hopely farm about 20 kilometers north of Harare's central business district is one of the poorest residential areas in Zimbabwe's capital. People here largely depend on informal employment, which has dried up since the Zimbabwe government imposed a lockdown in late March to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
The situation was made worse by the dusk-to-dawn curfew imposed earlier this month, according to the World Food Program.
One of those affected is 52-year-old Aleck Mugopa, who looks after his six children. Since the beginning of the lockdown, he said, there are times when the family has gone without a decent meal.
He said it's now really difficult, especially here in Harare, as we are not working. We have no source of livelihood. So my children are starving, he said.
Asked what the government is providing, he said, "There is nothing."
Asked what he wants from the government, Mugopa said, ""We just want food aid so that we can survive and when the lockdown is over, I can get back to vegetable vending." At the moment, he said, police are chasing people from the fields so there is no way he can grow plants.
Claire Nevill, the WFP spokeswoman in Zimbabwe, said people like Mugopa are the reason why the U.N. agency is asking for an additional $250 million to reach more than 8 million food insecure people -- in both urban and rural areas - in this southern African nation, which was plagued by recurring droughts and a struggling economy even before the coronavirus pandemic came.
"The already dire situation is set to worsen and if the international community does not step up, the risk of a humanitarian catastrophe is very real. COVID 19 is threatened to deepen and widen Zimbabwe's climate and recession induced hunger crisis," she said.
"We know that in urban areas where lockdowns have triggered massive joblessness the number of food insecure people forecasts is set to rise as the social-economic consequences of the pandemic become more pronounced, in rural areas the number is set to increase as the stocks from the recent drought hit harvest are run down and now the return of now migrant workers and the absence of their remittances they provided are keenly felt."
Minister of Social Welfare Paul Mavima told VOA that the government has assisted 260,000 urban dwellers like Mugopa, who were left without income because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The total amount that the government of Zimbabwe has committed to this relief - which is a combination of COVID-19 and the drought that we have faced for the past two seasons -- we are going to use something line $300 to 350 million for feeding the vulnerable in Zimbabwe."
He said President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government "was happy and appreciates" efforts by the WFP to help millions of food insecure Zimbabweans.
The WFP's Nevill said the lockdown, coupled with the drought, has made Zimbabwe's food situation more precarious than ever before.
"So severe is the country's food crisis that for the first time ever is that one WFP lean season assistance programme has been immediately succeeded by another. The previous one ended in June and a month later, our lean season assistance program began on the first of July, three months earlier than it usually would," said Nevill.
She said the WFP cannot maintain the program long-term unless funding from the U.S., European Union and other donors comes in a timely fashion.