By Zimbabwe Civil Society Organisations Scaling Up Nutrition Alliance (ZCSOSUNA)
The Corona Virus Disease 2019 (COVID 19) pandemic is a health and humanitarian crisis threatening the food security and nutrition of millions of people around the country.
The pandemic comes at a time when more than 4.3 million people are severely food insecure in rural areas in Zimbabwe, according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis undertaken in February 2020. In addition, 2.2 million people in urban areas were identified to be, “cereal food insecure,” according to the Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZIMVAC) analysis.
Government measures such as border restrictions and the lockdown to protect citizens from Coronavirus disease are crucial and saving many lives. However, these measures put in place to slow the transmission of the disease are resulting in hardship for many vulnerable families.
In particular, the COVID 19 pandemic is having worrying impacts on household incomes and food security. The continuous increase in food insecurity, coupled with high food prices, may negatively affect the nutritional needs—particularly of children and pregnant and lactating women. Such disruptions on livelihoods and food access can result in consequences for the health and nutrition of an unseen severity and scale. Unless if immediate action is taken, we could witness an extraordinary situation in which people are unable to meet their basic survival needs.
The COVID-19 pandemic severely threatens an already critical food and nutrition security situation arising mainly from the prevailing poor macroeconomic conditions and consecutive years of drought. The situation is set to worsen as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, according to the new Global Food Crisis Report Forecast (GFCRF).
The 2020 Zimbabwe Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP), launched on 2 April 2020, indicates that 7 million people in urban and rural areas are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance across Zimbabwe, compared to the 5.5 million projected in August 2019.
Drought and crop failure, exacerbated by macro-economic challenges and austerity measures, have directly affected vulnerable households in both rural and urban communities. According to the most recent Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVAC), 2.2 million people in urban areas, are “cereal food insecure” and nutritional needs remain high with over 1.1 million children and women requiring nutrition assistance. Food and nutrition insecurity has become a reality in most rural and urban households.
The impacts of COVID-19 and the consequences of the containment measures such as lockdown and restricted mobility are far-reaching. Both subsistence smallholder farmers and low-income urban households are affected and exposed to food and nutrition insecurity. In rural areas, there is disrupted farm produce chains in the country, impacting the livelihoods of farmers and the diets of rural and urban households. While in urban areas the livelihoods of the urban poor which rely mostly on the informal sector (vendors, Kombi drivers) has been hugely affected with the COVID-19 lockdown protocols.
Zimbabwe is one of the countries whose household-level food system is sustained by the activities of subsistence smallholders. Of importance is to note that the consequences of the COVID-19 and the containment responses by the government and local authorities to the pandemic are likely to harmfully affect the poor and marginalized categories of societies who lack adequate resources and means to leap back after such catastrophic and unpredictable disruptions.
Many of Zimbabwe’s farmers have already been hit by prolonged drought linked to climate change, and the market closures have come as an additional financial blow, exposing the affected household to food and nutrition insecurity.
As a nation, we must scale up nutrition programs. We cannot afford to delay. Good nutrition enables children to develop healthy immune systems, reducing future spending on healthcare throughout their lives. It also unlocks children’s potential, children who get the right nutrition in their first 1,000 days that is from conception until 2 years will earn on average 21% more as adults and will actively contribute to the labour force of our nation.
We know that undernutrition comes at a high human and economic cost. The economic costs of undernutrition, in terms of lost national productivity and economic growth are significant. Collectively the costs of poor nutrition represent an estimated loss of 2-3% of a country’s GDP.
As the Zimbabwe Civil Society Organisations Scaling Up Nutrition we urgently call upon the government of Zimbabwe to take action to protect nutritional status of the most vulnerable families and individuals across Zimbabwe while implementing appropriate infection control measures. This joint statement is intended to provide recommendations on a prioritized set of actions to support nutrition in the context of COVID-19. The key actions needed are as follows:
- Food and nutrition assistance need to be at the heart of social protection programmes. We need to protect food access for the most vulnerable households by increasing their purchasing power through cash transfer projects and where necessary by directly providing food through community-based programmes. We propose that the government should consider providing a “Nutritious Food Basket,” of 5 food items that could help to prevent a spike acute malnutrition in vulnerable households. These food items include fortified mealie meal, flour and cooking oil, beans and kapenta). On average this food basket may cost $41.00 or equivalent in ZWD per family. The food items were identified because of their high nutritional value and wide consumption across Zimbabwe.
- Guidance be provided to school staff, parents and children on the importance of safe and healthy diets, hygiene and physical activity for school aged children. Where possible school meal programmes should be continued using alternative transfer modalities including cash transfers and food deliveries at home.
- Local authorities should set up new markets to prevent informal food traders over-crowding and ensure social distancing in traditional marketplaces. Community halls and sports fields that are near residential areas can be used as food markets
- There is need for the government, local authorities, international donors and the private sector to support smallholder subsistence farmers so as to ensure that the smallholder farmers and informal food traders (including street food vendors) have protective equipment and sanitizers as recommended by medical experts so that they can safely continue to produce, distribute and sell fresh produce.