- Inflation has hit 456 percent, grain prices soar and food staples become ever more unavailable for the poor majority of Zimbabweans. There are now reports of "an increasing number of negative coping mechanisms such as child labour and prostitution," WFP, the UN food agency, today reports. Meanwhile, many Zimbabweans will not cultivate their land in fear of being expelled.
Southern Africa has experienced drought and hunger for more than one year. But while most of the region is slowly recovering from the food crisis, the Zimbabwean population are only sinking deeper into it. In Zimbabwe, the problem is not only a nature-made drought; it is also a man-made economic disaster that leads the people to face hunger.
- The food security situation continues to worsen, the WFP sums up the situation in Zimbabwe in this week's 'Emergency Report'. As more households become vulnerable, WFP has had to increase its operations and is currently distributing food to just over 2 million targeted beneficiaries, a 33 percent increase over those reached last month.
The availability of agricultural inputs remains critical, according to WFP, and has been worsened by increasing prices. As an example, the price of maize seed had increased by 10 percent since 6 October. The soaring prices at the beginning of the growing season only follow other market trends.
The annual inflation rate reached had 456 percent for September, according to the government's Central Statistics Office. The figures are based on official prices and "would be considerably higher if the parallel market prices for fuel and food were taken into consideration," WFP notes. Most commodities - and almost all fuel - are only available on the parallel market.
Prices further vary widely over the country. In Midlands Province, the price of the seed is four times higher than in Matabeleland. While several NGOs are distributing seeds in parts of the country, their interventions are modest compared to the overall need. An upcoming record harvest is therefore already ruled out before the seeds are in the soil.
The WFP report however gives a piece of hope. While the local guardians of the Mugabe regime hitherto have been widely criticised for withholding food aid from opposition supporters and for stealing food aid, the report soberly notes that "distribution activities are going smoothly with good cooperation from local leadership structures and communities."
Other good news are that the first rain showers now have fallen and planting is due to begin in a few weeks time. However, only a more than perfect rainy season may now balance the misgivings of failed government policies and economic ruin for Zimbabwe's rural population. Given the lack of seeds, not even perfect weather may improve the current situation.
The ongoing land reform is also causing ever larger tracts of land not to be cultivated. While the first, official round of land reform expelled white commercial farmers and their workers from the land, a new and unofficial round of the reform is now going on, with disastrous consequences, as reported today by the organisation Refugees International (RI).
RI met several groups of formerly landless people who had been re-settled on an expropriated commercial farm three years ago. They were the original beneficiaries of land reform. "But three weeks before our visit, they were ordered off their land by government authorities and their houses were burned," RI reports. "They were told they would be given new land but so far nothing had been done for them."
In all the cases observed by RI, prominent government official had desired the land recently given to the landless. The Harare upper-class surrounding President Mugabe thus has launched a second round of the land reform, redistributing the land among themselves.
For the rural population, the new expropriations have caused stress and uncertainty. RI had spoken to several poor farmers, telling them they had not prepared their land for planting in November. In addition to the uncertainty over expropriations, there were "no seeds," they said, "and no fertilizer and no gasoline for tractors."
Survival tactics in the countryside included eating livestock, gold panning, poaching wild game, and - most importantly - receiving remittances from relatives working abroad, according to farmers interviewed by RI. In the cities of Harare and Bulawayo, one can observe the coping tactics not mentioned by the rural dwellers: child labour and prostitution is getting more common in Zimbabwe, one of the world's countries worst hit by AIDS.
Further, the country's economic collapse is only continuing. Zimbabwe is in an economic freefall that has already forced more than a million people to migrate to neighbouring countries in search of jobs. Several hundred thousand agricultural workers are displaced or unemployed within the country. Inflation will reach about 800 percent at the end of this year and unemployment is estimated at 70 percent.
Meanwhile, the Mugabe government is focussing its efforts on further repression of the Zimbabwean opposition, civil society and the remnants of a free press. The economic crisis and the growing repression is likely to lead to an even more "massive outflow of Zimbabweans to South Africa, Botswana, and other neighbouring countries" in the moths to come, RI foresees.
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