Over half of Zimbabwe need food aid amid El Niño havoc

Amidst the devastating impact of the El Niño weather phenomenon, Zimbabwe faces a dire crisis as over half its population, approximately 7.7 million people, urgently require food assistance until March next year. With rural areas bearing the brunt, the nation’s corn output has plummeted by 77%, exacerbating the situation. Despite government efforts and plans for corn imports, the spectre of hunger looms large. Southern Africa grapples with a shared plight, highlighting the urgent need for regional and international support.

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By Ray Ndlovu

Zimbabwe’s cabinet has said more than half of the nation’s population of about 15 million people will immediately need food aid until March next year, as the country reels from the impact of the El Niño weather phenomenon that’s already slashed corn output and led to a national state of disaster being declared.

“A total of 7.7 million people, being 51% of the population, will require food assistance,” Jenfan Muswere, the information minister said at a post-cabinet briefing held Tuesday in the capital, Harare. “This excludes a further 4.5 million who would require school meals.”

The southern African nation’s rural areas are the most affected with 6 million people in need of food assistance until the first quarter of next year. A report by the Zimbabwe Livelihoods Assessment Committee put those in need of food assistance in urban areas at 1.7 million people, according to Muswere.

Meanwhile, the Agriculture Ministry has revised upwards its estimate of the devastation of Zimbabwe’s corn output this season to 77% from a previous 72% estimate. The country estimates production at 744,271 metric tonnes of corn. Zimbabwe consumes 2.2 million tons of corn annually, with 1.8 million tons used for food and 400,000 tons used for livestock feed.

“Government is working hard to ensure that no one will die of hunger,” said Muswere. Zimbabwean grain millers plan to import at least 1.4 million tons of corn from some Latin American nations including Brazil by July to address the shortfall. 

The El Niño weather phenomenon has triggered a dry spell across southern Africa that’s slashed South Africa’s corn crop by at least a fifth and led countries including Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe to declare states of national disaster because of crop failures. Last week, the UN Office for the Coordirnation of Humanitarian Affairs made an appeal for $429 million to help Zimbabwe. The agency previously also asked humanitarian partners for $228 million for Zambia.

“The whole of the southern African region experienced an El Niño season, although Zimbabwe seemed to be the epicenter for the phenomenon,” Muswere said.

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