More than 5 million Zimbabweans – about a third of the population – need emergency food aid, with 2 million close to starvation, the UN food agency WFP has warned.
The stark comments came at the launch of a $331.5m aid appeal to help the southern African country recover from the triple effects of a crippling drought, a devastating cyclone, and a rapidly worsening economic crisis.
David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Programme (WFP), said Tuesday that 2.3 million people in rural Zimbabwe were in “crisis emergency mode” and need food aid now.
“We are talking about people who truly are marching towards starvation if we are not here to help them,” Beasley said.
The El Nino-induced drought cut the maize harvest by half, and President Emmerson Mnangagwa has declared it a national disaster.
Beasley said those in need of emergency food aid in rural Zimbabwe would increase to 5.5 million by next year.
The government estimates another 2.2 million people in urban areas also require food aid, bringing the total to 7.7 million, more than half of the country’s population.
The $331.5m would be used for food aid, provision of water and sanitation and cash handouts to stricken families.
In addition to food shortages, the appeal also targeted the humanitarian needs of victims of Cyclone Idai which tore through parts of eastern Zimbabwe earlier this year.
The cyclone, which also affected parts of Malawi and Mozambique, affected 570,000 Zimbabweans and displaced some 50,000 of them.
Mnangagwa, in a tweet Wednesday, called for urgent action from the international community to help Zimbabwe deal with “the devastating Cyclone Idai and an El Nino induced drought.”
Zimbabwe is also experiencing its worst power cuts in three years, partly because the drought has reduced water levels at the country’s biggest hydro-electric plant, Kariba.
Amid rising discontent, the main opposition party said it was planning street demonstrations next week to protest against the government’s handling of the economy.