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UN opts for food handouts in Zimbabwe

China Daily | Updated: 2020-01-10 09:41

The United Nations is replacing cash transfers with food handouts in a fresh bid to combat a hunger crisis gripping 8 million people in Zimbabwe.

Gerry Bourke, a spokesperson for the UN's World Food Program, or WFP, in Southern Africa, said that the move was necessitated by the limited local currency available.

"Zimbabweans who we support are telling us, please give us food, please don't give us cash because cash becomes devalued so quickly," Bourke said in an interview in Zimbabwe on Jan 2.

Zimbabwe is facing its worst food crisis in 10 years, with more than half the country's 16 million people now considered food-insecure. Most households cannot find enough food to meet their basic needs, due to the effects of climate change and hyperinflation.

In December, the UN warned that Zimbabwe, once seen as Africa's breadbasket, is in the grip of starvation.

"In rural areas, a staggering 5.5 million people are currently facing food insecurity as poor rains and erratic weather patterns are impacting harvests and livelihoods," a statement by UN experts said.

"In urban areas, an estimated 2.2 million people are food-insecure and lack access to minimum public services including health and safe water."

With Zimbabwe being a landlocked country, food has to be shipped into ports in South Africa and Mozambique and then trucked in. This was one of the reasons why the UN had preferred cash transfers to food donations.

However, Zimbabwe's poor economy has hurt the livelihoods of rural and urban households, with many experiencing severe cash shortages. These problems, together rising prices for cereals, prompting the UN's switch in how it deliveries aid.

According to the UN statement, eight of Zimbabwe's 59 districts have acute malnutrition rates of more than 5 percent of the population in those districts-a level not seen before in the southern Africa country.

"Due to this, children are increasingly dropping out of school and being forced into early marriage while others are facing domestic violence, prostitution and sexual exploitation," the statement said.

Even though drought has long been a cyclical phenomenon in southern African, the impacts of climate change have made extreme weather patterns happen more often, with long-term consequences and damage.

These pressures, combined with the economic sanctions and restrictions imposed on the government of Zimbabwe by many Western countries, have exacerbated the situation by indirectly raising living costs for the overall population.

Otiato Opali in Nairobi, Kenya, contributed to this story.

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