By Byron Mutingwende
The coordinated multi-stakeholder response to the severe effects of drought has gone a long way in reducing the vulnerability of both rural and urban dwellers grappling with food shortages and challenges of malnutrition.
The El Nino – induced drought has led to a serious surge in food insecurity and hunger affecting 40 million people across the southern Africa region. Zimbabwe, one of the countries most affected, is in the midst of the worst drought in 25 years that is projected to affect 5.2 million people including 1.1 million urban dwellers during the first quarter of 2017, the United Nations has said.
Addressing some 150 participants at the 4th national multi-stakeholders consultative meeting jointly convened by the Office of the President and Cabinet and the UN System in Zimbabwe today in Harare at the Cresta Lodge, the UN Resident Coordinator Bishow Parajuli said, “As we approach the peak hunger period of the lean season, inadequate funding to the humanitarian response plan will not only curtail the ongoing relief efforts to increase assistance to the most vulnerable in the rural settlements and scale-up assistance in urban areas but also risks reversing the gains made in the development and humanitarian areas thus far.”
Of the $352 million being sought under the Humanitarian Response Plan (April 2016-March 2017), nearly $212 million has been committed, with the current funding gap at $140 million. The committed financial and in kind relief support has allowed the UN and NGOs to reach approximately 1.7 million vulnerable people in over 42 districts with food, cash, agricultural inputs and other lifesaving relief assistance.
The committed resource includes the recently announced additional £40 million by DFID. Announcing the additional boost which brings the total contribution by the Government of the UK to £55.6 million, Annabel Gerry Head of DFID Zimbabwe said, “The additional support from DFID will provide mobile cash payments to 360,000 vulnerable people up until end of March 2017; cover the cost of screening of 160,000 children for malnutrition; and the cost of treatment for over 12,000 children.”
The ongoing relief response has also been made possible by the generous contributions from USAID, EU-ECHO, the Netherlands, Japan, Australia, Sweden, Canada, Switzerland, Germany, Ireland and Denmark. The BRICS nations and others have also supported the relief efforts, including bilateral contributions from China, India and Brazil.
Expressing deep gratitude and appreciation for the generous support from donors, the UN Resident Coordinator said, “sectors such as water, hygiene, and sanitation; education; and protection remain severely underfunded, threatening the country’s hard-won development gains made in these areas over the years.”
The fourth national multi-stakeholder consultative meeting underlined the importance of the drought response to be consistently guided by the universal humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence.
Senior Principal Director, Office of the President and Cabinet, Ozias Hove said, “Government has made all efforts to import and set a buffer stock of maize to ensure that no citizen starves irrespective of one’s political or other affiliations.” Mr. Hove appreciated the generous support from humanitarian and development partners that are complementing Government’s efforts in response to the prevailing humanitarian challenges and called on all partners to stay the course.
Noting the need to continue and increase joint response to the pressing effects of the worst drought, stakeholders agreed to recalibrate their efforts towards resilience-building, provision of quality social services and protection programmes to ensure strong linkages and eventual transition of those affected by drought to recovery, medium and long-term sustainable development.
Reiterating on the call to planning for the future with focus on building resilience, Hove said, “to this end the Government of Zimbabwe is implementing a special programme to ensure food security targeting to produce at least two million metric tonnes of maize grain on 400,000ha of which 200,000ha will be irrigated.”
Today’s national multi-stakeholders consultative meeting follows two successful Provincial Drought Response Consultative meetings held in Bulawayo and Harare at the end of September and beginning of November, respectively. The provincial meetings allowed partners to adopt harmonized relief response approach across the Government, UN and NGOs managed assistance for improved targeting, registration, distribution, monitoring and accountability.
The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, Ngoni Masoka said that the Food Deficit Mitigation Programme is covering all the eight (8) rural provinces and the two metropolitan provinces of Bulawayo and Harare.
The Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVAC) Rural Livelihood Assessment projected that approximately 820,000 households will be food insecure at the peak drought period January 2016- March 2017.
Currently, the Government is distributing grain to a total of 788,245 households who are receiving 39,412.25 mt. on a monthly basis. Partners are responding through the World Food Programme, Care International Consortium, Save Consortium, Ensure, and Amalima, among others and are operating in 44 districts.
“While the Government is distributing grain only, partners are distributing cereals, pulses, cooking oil and cash transfers. In addition, Government is also implementing the Schools Feeding Programme in all rural schools targeted. According to the programme, this will be covered by the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education,” Masoka said.
Meanwhile, the ZimVAC 2016 Urban Livelihoods Assessment has been completed and the report is awaiting Cabinet approval. Once adopted, the number of food insecure households is expected to increase. The Government is also assisting vulnerable households with agricultural inputs under the Presidential and vulnerable households input support scheme. A total of 820 000 households have been targeted to benefit from the programme
The government implements social protection services which cover harmonized social cash transfer, public assistance, Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM) and the presidential agricultural input scheme.
Under the harmonized social cash transfer a total 23 districts across the country are covered by the with funding from Government covering 11 Districts, and from the Child Protection Fund which is covering 8 Districts, and the DREAMS programme under USAID is covering 4 Districts. A total of 52 000 households are being covered under the harmonized social cash transfer and Government appreciate the support from the Donor community.
Masoka revealed that 351 154 children are currently enrolled under the BEAM in 2016. The programme needs $33 million but currently only $10 million has been released which will be adequate to cover 126 000 children in both primary and secondary education. Under BEAM, 21000 children have been assisted with examination fees at both Ordinary and Advanced levels.
Under Public Assistance, the vulnerable households are being assisted with the Assistance medical treatment orders, pauper burials, maintenance allowances and travel allowances among many others
However, there still remain some gaps and challenges. There is inadequate transport to deliver grain from GMB deports to distribution points as government is relying solely on District Development Fund and the Zimbabwe Defence Forces vehicles and there is need for additional transport.
There is also the limited support for schools to provide relish for the school-feeding programme resulting in parents being asked to contribute some funds for schools to procure additional food commodities. There is need for ensuring that the food basket safeguards the nutritional status of households.
Christopher Mweembe, the National Coordinator of Caritas, thanked the government for conducting the urban vulnerability assessment saying it will go a long way in addressing the challenges faced by the urban poor.
“We hope that a robust analysis of the causes and effects, using a framework like the sustainable livelihood framework, will help in addressing the challenges faced by the people. Responding to the effects only will not solve the problem. The affected vulnerable sections of the communities will continue to suffer,” Mweembe said.