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Zimbabwe will need $2 billion to feed millions of people facing hunger due to drought

  • Zimbabwe will need $2 billion to feed millions of people facing hunger due to drought
    Credit: Pablo González Cebrián/SWM
  • Zimbabwe follows Malawi and Zambia and declares a state of disaster due to drought.
  • With a large share of employment in rainfed agriculture, drought threatens the food poor in rural areas.

Zimbabwe has declared a national disaster due to drought, reports the BBC. President Emmerson Mnangagwa has called for international aid, saying the country will need $2 billion to feed millions of people facing hunger.

The declaration follows similar ones by neighbouring countries Malawi and Zambia, as much of southern Africa is threatened by a food crisis due to drought induced by the El Niño global weather pattern. Although El Niño typically leads to low rainfall in southern Africa, this year’s drought could be the worst in decades.

President Mnangagwa said more than 80% of the country had received below normal rainfall destroying almost half of the maize crop. "Top on our priority is securing food for all Zimbabweans. No Zimbabwean must succumb to or die from hunger", he said.

Zimbabwe has a predominantly semi-arid climate which is extremely variable, with shifting rainfall patterns, droughts and floods. It has experienced at least nine episodes of drought since 1980, interspersed with occasional but severe storms, according to the World Bank’s 2024 Country Climate and Development Report. The frequency of droughts rose from 1-in-10 growing seasons in the period 1902–1979 to 1-in-4 growing seasons in the period 1980–2011, suggesting the impact of climate change over and above normal climate variability in rainfall patterns.

Drought is a high risk given the large share of employment in agriculture, which is primarily rainfed, and the rural concentration of the food poor. The country’s most pressing climate-related priority is managing food security. While maize accounts for more than half of the average calorie consumption for the majority of the population, the World Bank estimates that under dry/hot scenarios, maize yield losses could be up to 20 per cent by the 2040s.

The country responds to cyclical droughts and chronic food insecurity mainly through a humanitarian approach. During the precarious “lean season”, from January to March, when rural households run out of food while waiting for the next harvest, there is a yearly emergency response. It consists mainly in grain distribution, though the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the Government-led Food Deficit Mitigation Strategy. These food programmes assist between 1 and 3 million people in a regular year, and up to 6 million people in a major drought year, such as in 2020. The disaster declaration opens the door for aid agencies to mobilise more international support.

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