The head of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned today that high levels of malnutrition could hold Zimbabwe back from reaching its full potential, during a visit to the country at the peak of its lean season.
Food insecurity featured high on the agenda of Executive Director Ertharin Cousin, who arrived on Wednesday in Zimbabwe, where 2 million people are now food insecure, according to the latest assessments.
It is estimated that at this point of the lean season - the pre-harvest period when many families have depleted their own-produced stocks - one in four people in rural areas is having problems meeting food needs, WFP stated in a news release.
"Food security and nutrition are vital for Zimbabwe's development, and high levels of malnutrition could hold the country back from reaching its full potential," said Ms. Cousin. "Grain prices are much higher than they were this time last year and some communities have no food stocks left following last season's bad harvest."
WFP had planned to be assisting 1.8 million of the most vulnerable at this time but, due to funding constraints, is only able to meet the needs of 1.2 million people. Most of these are receiving reduced rations and WFP's relief activities are being scaled back in all but the worst-affected areas, the agency said.
It added that while there is "guarded optimism" about next month's harvest due to recent rains, excessive rainfall in some areas has resulted in flooding and crop damage.
Ms. Cousin urged both the Government and the international community to ensure that the most vulnerable continue to be assisted, and to provide means for communities to build resilience.
"We know donors have to make tough decisions with so many simultaneous humanitarian emergencies in the world but we also ask that the less visible crises, like that in Zimbabwe, not be forgotten," she stated.
Among WFP's efforts in the country is a health and nutrition programme, run in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Child Care and aid agency partners, which is currently assisting more than 200,000 malnourished pregnant women, nursing mothers and children under the age of five years. The agency also implements resilience-building activities in which people are supported while they work on community projects including irrigation and water harvesting schemes.
All these programmes will have to be cut back unless more donor funding is secured, WFP warned.