Zimbabwe’s poorest feel El Nino pain as drought fries harvests, livestock

For four months Ripisai Manonge and her four orphan grandchildren and great grandchild have survived on half a dollar a day. Now she can’t go on, she says.

IA young girl stands in a maize field in Buhera Zimbabwe  Unicef Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

IA young girl stands in a maize field in Buhera Zimbabwe Unicef Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

80 Year Old Ripsaw Manonge goes through her meager harvest in Buhera Zimbabwe.-Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi, Unicef)

80 Year Old Ripsaw Manonge goes through her meager harvest in Buhera Zimbabwe.-Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi, Unicef)

On November 25 last year, the 80-year-old sold the last of her cattle for $350. That amount has kept 11-year-old Lewis Mukonya in class and provided food for HIV positive Enoch Kwaramba, siblings Elvis and Moreblessing Mudzengerere, and 18-year-old Forget Muchumwe.

“This year’s harvest equals a bucket,’’ she said surveying drying maize grains salvaged from her scorched fields. “I have nothing left.’’

Zimbabwe, along with the rest of southern Africa, is in the grip of an El Nino induced drought which has cut crop yields and killed livestock threatening half a million children with hunger, according to the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee. The government has declared the drought an emergency and appealed for $1.6 billion in food assistance. It has so far raised xx million.

The survey found food insecurity in Buhera at 61 percent, the highest among the country’s 33 districts ahead of winter and the dry season. Government officials are warning hunger will worsen in the third quarter when accumulated food reserves run out.

Many families are being forced to sell livestock and other assets to feed families, according to Vhenekai Jaravaza, a village health worker in Chief Makumbe’s territory. But there are no buyers, leading to lower prices. However prices for the staple maize meal have been accelerating, peaking at around $9 per 10 kilogramme bag from $6 last year.

“Everybody is selling,’’ she said, citing her own example. She has five cattle left from as many as 12 last year and two turkeys from 15 last year. “The problem is, because of the hardship, there are no buyers.’’

Buhera, home to a quarter of a million people, has been the hardest hit by the drought, with food insecurity incidence of 61 percent, the highest among the country’s 33 districts, according to the latest Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZIMVAC) report released in January.

At Murambinda Mission Hospital, Matron Silindiwe Shamhu says diarrhoea cases are rising because of water shortages. Many of the mothers who come the district’s biggest hospital also say they are down to one meal a day, she said.

“Poverty levels appear to be rising. We are hearing a lot of stories of hardship,” Shamhu said. Among “some of the under 5s we are seeing cases sexual abuse for food. On a rating of one to 10, I am on 8’’ in terms of concern, she said.

Government interventions so far have been limited to helping the most vulnerable families identified by headmen and villagers themselves. Health workers say there are thousands more people who have been left out.

In visits to homesteads around the district, reporters encountered tales of hardship with the burden of finding food for children in many cases falling on the elderly.

In visits to homesteads around the district, reporters encountered tales of hardship with the burden of finding food for children in many cases falling on the elderly.

Ndakaitei Mukarati, 63, of Mutaramuswa village under Chief Makumbe, is battling to find food for four of her seven children, her paraplegic mother and orphan granddaughter Tendai* who was born HIV positive. One of her sons is also HIV positive while the other has epilepsy.

“The child is sick but I don’t have enough food to feed her so that she can take her medicine,’’ Ndakaitei told reporters on a UNICEF field visit. The previous day she had walked for eight hours taking Tendai to the local clinic for her three-month examination.

She expects no harvest this year after the sun burnt her maize, sorghum, rapoko and bambara nuts fields and says she has been reduced to begging and government handouts.  Her husband, 78-year-old Turiki Patrick Hwete has no income.

“The poverty makes you laugh but perhaps its God’s will,’’ she says matter-of-factly.

At the Buhera Mission Hospital, 77-year old widower Jiri Muteve had brought his emaciated paraplegic granddaughter abandoned by his son and his wife. He took the 43-month child to the police after his son left her in the family vegetable garden and is seeking assistance from the Department of Social Welfare.

Across the hospital bed, 58-year-old Evelyn Chinyanga had a similar tale:  an HIV positive and kwashiokor stricken granddaughter also abandoned by her mother who she thinks is mentally ill. The child was struggling with the daily diet of sadza and usvusvu – a thinner porridge made from rapoko.

“It doesn’t make sense anymore,’’ she said. “Maybe it’s God’s will.’’– Courtesy of Unicef Zimbabwe

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1 thought on “Zimbabwe’s poorest feel El Nino pain as drought fries harvests, livestock”

  1. Mwalanga says:

    Its time for all countries in Southern Africa to draw nigh to God in repentance, forsake our evil ways, and praying to God, then God will hear frm heaven and he will heal our nations. 2 Chronicles 7:14

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