NEARLY half of Zimbabwe’s 15 million strong population has plunged into extreme poverty between 2011 and last year due to massive job losses and a sharp drop in agricultural output, among a myriad of internal and external factors, a new report by the World Bank shows.
The report also reveals that during the same period under review the number of people who became extremely poor more than doubled. It could cause embarrassment to the authorities in Harare who have painted a rosy economic picture since President Emmerson Mnangagwa rose to power in 2017.
According to the latest World Bank economic update on Zimbabwe, titled Overcoming Economic Challenges, Natural Disasters and the Pandemic: Social and Economic Impacts, while the country may this year recover from two years of contraction, the levels of poverty remain high.
The World Bank says Zimbabwe’s economy contracted by 8.1% in 2019, the deepest decline in a decade—even amid progress on several fronts including “Doing Business” reforms.
Experts say in recent times, a severe drought, Cyclone Idai and the Covid-19 pandemic have significantly reduced economic activity and particularly affected the agriculture, water, and electricity sectors, while generating ripple effects on other sectors. But before this, poor economic policies and bad governance were largely blamed for the poor economic performance.
Addressing delegates who attended the launch of the Zimbabwe Economic Update, Rob Swinkels, a senior economist at the World Bank, said the levels of inequality have also widened over the last decade. The richest 10% of the population consumes 40% of the total national consumption, the report showed.
Extreme poverty rose from 23% in 2011 to 38% in April-My 2019 before climbing to 49% last year, the report revealed. During 2017-2019, urban poverty rose faster than urban poverty in relative terms.
“What is the data telling us? We find that the number of extreme poor people—that is the number of people below the extreme poverty line of about US$29.80 per person per month has more than doubled between 2011 and 2020,” Swinkels said.
“Preliminary estimates suggest the number of extreme poor reached 7.9 million in 2020—49% of the population. This is driven by job and income losses in urban areas and a deterioration of social services and a drop in agricultural production in rural areas.”
The World Bank report further showed that surveys conducted in 2020 indicate that nearly 500 000 Zimbabwean households have at least one member who lost her or his job, causing many households to fall into poverty and worsening the plight of the existing poor.
Wage earners in urban areas were also disproportionally affected by the pandemic, as their pay was cut, or no pay was received at all. Rural households, which rely less on wage employment and depend on farm business, were less affected.
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