- While most basic foodstuffs continue to be readily available on both the formal and the parallel urban markets in Zimbabwe, their prices have climbed to unreachable levels for the majority of urban households. The cost of standard food items for low-income urban household steadily increases more than the wages.
Food insecurity has taken a firm root in the Zimbabwean countryside already some months ago, and more than half of the rural population is by now depending on food aid. Now, however, food insecurity is rapidly deepening also in the cities and towns of Zimbabwe.
According to the US agency Famine Early Warning Systems (FEWS), the prices of a standard food basket in urban Zimbabwe has increased at double speed, compared to the increase in minimum wages. Further, a growing part of the urban population is without employment and thus without incomes.
The situation is set to become even graver, as supplies are expected to decline in the coming months. Due to the ongoing drought, Zimbabwe's agricultural production will drop even more this season. "Most of the production this season will come from and be consumed by rural smallholders, leaving urban areas without adequate supply," FEWS warns in a report released yesterday evening.
Meanwhile, the Harare government's ability to address the food security crisis in the country in the next months "is seriously limited by the shrinking tax base and poor export performance of the whole economy," FEWS observes. Food imports therefore cannot be expected to compensate for the declining production.
In rural Zimbabwe, the situation currently leaves little hope. The country's most important agricultural areas have been receiving below normal rains during this rainy season. Therefore, national grain production this year "will be even lower than expected," FEWS concludes.
- Staple cereal supplies in the rural areas continue to be critical, particular in the traditionally grain deficit parts of the country, the US agency says. "With limited means to earn cash income to finance trips to urban areas and procure food, most rural households are left with no option but to depend on food aid and employ consumption coping strategies."
The World Food Programme (WFP) increased the number of its food aid beneficiaries from 2.2 million in October to 2.6 million, although this only represents half of the persons in need of aid, according to WFP calculations. All in all, more than half of Zimbabwe's rural population now needs food aid.
The Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZIMVAC) estimates that about 5.02 million people in the rural areas of Zimbabwe and at least 1 million people in the urban areas will be in need of food assistance from January to March 2004.
Due to the Mugabe regime's dispute with most potential donor countries, only little aid is expected. The worsening of relations between Zimbabwe and its traditional international allies darkens the prospects of the foreign currency situation improving soon. Donor response to the UN appeal for food assistance remains lukewarm, FEWS observes.
The FEWS prediction for the coming months is pessimistic: "More and more urban poor urban households will be skipping meals, eating much less at every meal or migrating to squatter settlements, where no rent is paid. Some will even migrate to the rural areas were the cost of living is considered to be relatively lower. More are expected to pull children out of school."
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