Zimbabwe is on the brink of starvation as 7,7 million people are food insecure, amid fears the humanitarian crisis is likely to escalate political instability, a UN special rapporteur on the right to food has warned.
The country is enduring one of its worst droughts in a decade following poor rains during the 2018/19 agricultural season, a situation that has worsened the food crisis.
Hilal Elver, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, said most households were on the brink of starvation amid indications of another famine.
"I cannot stress enough the urgency of the situation in Zimbabwe. Currently, 60% of Zimbabwe's population of 14 million is considered food-insecure, living in a household that is unable to obtain enough food to meet basic needs," Elver said in a statement following her 11-day visit to drought-stricken parts of Zimbabwe.
About 5,5 million rural Zimbabweans are facing food insecurity while 2,2 million in urban centres will require food aid.She said the number of food insecure people is expected to double in 2020.
"The number of food insecure people is expected to almost double in early 2020 compared to the same period in the prior year. The peasant community, which produces 70% of staple foods (maize, millet and groundnuts), is particularly vulnerable. It has access to less than 5% of irrigation facilities, and is struggling to access productive resources due to cash shortages," Elver said.
According to the most recent 2019 Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis, a total of 2,25% of the rural population is estimated to be in "crisis" or at "emergency" levels of food insecurity (IPC Phase 3 and 4) and face moderate to large food consumption gaps.
The UN expert said government's austerity measures were also responsible for urban poverty where 2,2 million people are facing hunger."The currency crisis, a heavy tax system due to the imposition of austerity measures, unpredictable inflation rates, high levels of unemployment and low wages all contribute to the food crisis affecting urban households. As economic inequalities are on the rise, the once striving 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.
Elver said drought had also affected children's health with nearly 90% of Zimbabwean infants experiencing malnutrition and stunted growth."I saw the ravaging effects of malnutrition on infants deprived of breast feeding because of their own mothers' lack of access to adequate food."
As a result of the prolonged dry spells and food deficiency, the UN special rapporteur said women were engaging in dehumanising ways of fending for their families such as prostitution.
She urged government to take necessary measures to reduce the country's dependence on imported food, particularly maize, and to support alternative grains to diversify the diet, adding that the state should ensure the country's self-sufficiency.
"I call on the Government of Zimbabwe to live up to its zero hunger commitment without any discrimination," Elver said.The UN expert noted that Zimbabwe's food insecurity could spiral into a security issue.
"A Government official I met in Harare told me that food security is national security'. Never has this been truer than in today's Zimbabwe. As food insecurity and land mismanagement increase the risks of civil unrest, I urgently call on the government, all political parties and the international community to come together to put an end to this spiralling crisis before it morphs into a full-blown conflict," she said.
In January, Zimbabwe plunged into a national strike in response to a steep rise in fuel prices ordered by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, leading to the death of dozens of civilians.
Similar protests were repeated in August when the main opposition MDC took to the streets to express their displeasure at spiralling prices and the deteriorating economic fortunes. Police reacted by violently dispersing protesters who had gathered in central Harare, injuring many.