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Zimbabweans survive on handouts amid drought

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WHILE the government says it is ready to mitigate the effects of the current El Niño-induced drought, a new report by the World Bank reveals that Zimbabweans now mainly depend on humanitarian assistance for relief.

BERNARD MPOFU

The southern African country received lower-than-expected rainfall during the summer cropping season, a development which will result in a sharp decline in grain output.

A new World Bank report on climate notes that Zimbabwe is a lower middle-income country with abundant natural capital and growth potential, but is highly exposed to climate crisis, with its immediate ability to address climate challenges severely constrained.

The report further shows that while Zimbabwe is rich in natural capital, both mineral and renewable, existing public sector resources to address climate change challenges are limited by weak domestic revenue mobilisation and limited access to development finance due to arrears to multilateral development banks (MDBs).

Private sector investment is one of the lowest in the world as a share of GDP, hindered by recurring macroeconomic instability characterised by high inflation, exchange rate distortions, and unsustainable public debt levels with high external arrears.

“People in Zimbabwe are increasingly reliant on successive rounds of emergency relief rather than a formal government safety net,” the World Bank says.

“The country has experienced at least nine episodes of drought since 1980, interspersed with occasional but severe storms. In 2011, the national food poverty rate was 23% and this more than doubled by the end of the decade. In rural areas over half of the population (55%) was below the national food poverty line, despite the good maize harvest in the 2020/21 season.

“Due to the absence of adequate shock-responsive safety nets, over 80% of the food poor are not covered by any social assistance. Responding to Zimbabwe’s cyclical droughts and chronic food insecurity is mainly through humanitarian agencies funded by yearly emergency appeals, as opposed to through a more sustainable government-led safety net. Existing risk financing mechanisms are inadequate to mitigate the impact of disaster and cover potential losses faced by the country.”

The World Bank also noted that macroeconomic constraints, de-industrialisation, and land reform have combined to increase dependency on agricultural livelihoods and push up emissions from land use change.

“With deindustrialisation depleting opportunities in urban areas and the Fast-Track Land Reform Programme (FTLRP) opening up opportunities in rural areas, the structure of employment in the first decade of the 2000s shifted toward agriculture. This combination of factors pushed up emissions from Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Uses (AFOLU),” reads the report.

“The macroeconomic constraints pose a double bind in which the inability to finance development, climate adaptation, and mitigation is leading to increased land degradation, higher net emissions, and less resilience.”

The World Bank also says Zimbabwe is at a crossroads and the path that it takes will have consequences for both its development and climate action.

“Key sovereign decisions on macroeconomic policy, debt, mining sector governance, agricultural policy, and social protection will either keep the country on an LMIC path or open the door to an Upper Middle-Income Country (UMIC) path,” the World Bank says.

“The path that the country takes will have very real consequences for development and its resilience to climate variability and climate change, especially for the poor in rural areas. The path that it takes will also influence its carbon footprint, with higher emissions being associated with the LMIC path than its UMIC path. Unlocking the UMIC path would unleash FDI in export sectors and enable investment in human capital, agriculture, infrastructure and land restoration that would set Zimbabwe on a resilient low-carbon development path.” 

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