72 percent Zimbabweans living in poverty

Children walk past a makeshift house at a slum in Hatcliffe, Harare December 9, 2008. Up to 60,000 people in Zimbabwe could be infected with cholera in the worst case if the epidemic spirals further out of control, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Tuesday. The known number people with cholera in Zimbabwe stands at 13,960 with 589 deaths, although the true extent of the outbreak which began in August is unclear, according to the U.N. agency. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo (ZIMBABWE)
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HARARE,– Zimbabwe has been in economic decline since the late 1990s. In this economy, how many Zimbabweans live under the poverty datum line? A claim was made by opposition political party Build Zimbabwe Alliance, which ZimFact went out to fact check.

Claim: 38 years after independence, 72% of people still live under the poverty datum line.

The World Bank defines extreme poverty as living on less than US$1.90 per day as of October 2015. Prior to that, the global line was $1.25 a day. It was projected that in 2015, just over 700 million people were living in extreme poverty down from 1.9 billion in 1990 when the poverty line was initially set at $1.  The World Bank also has standards of poverty for people living in middle and high income countries.

Definition of Poverty Datum Line

According to the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency  (ZimStat), the poverty datum line ‘represents the cost of a given standard of living that must be attained if a person is deemed not to be poor’.

The poverty line is obtained by specifying a consumption bundle considered adequate for basic consumption needs and then by estimating the cost of these basic needs. The poverty line may, therefore, be thought of as the minimum expenditure required by an individual to fulfil his or her basic food and non-food needs.

In most instances, consumption is seen as a better outcome indicator than income, since the former reflects not only the goods and services that a household can command based on its current income, but also whether that household can access credit markets or household savings at times when current income is low or even negative due to factors such as seasonal variation or harvest failure especially in agrarian based economies such as Zimbabwe.

Closely related to PDL are the Food Poverty Line (FPL) and the Total Consumption Poverty Line (TCPL). The FPL describes the minimum value of food items that should be consumed by an individual per month and should satisfy that person’s dietary needs while the TCPL refers to the minimum value of food items and minimum non-food items consumed by an individual per month.

Main Causes of Poverty in Zimbabwe

In its Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper for 2016-18, the government points to the unprecedented economic recession of 2000 – 2008, in which almost half of the country’s real GDP was lost, international isolation and factors such as the negative impact of climate change on agriculture and the HIV/ AIDS epidemic, among others, as having all contributed to high levels of poverty in the country. Rain-fed agriculture under climate change is fast becoming a huge risk to food security.

What do the figures say?

The data available from the Poverty and Consumption and Expenditure Survey 2011/12 is the most recent since the study is carried out every five years.

While Government has, over the years, succeeded in halving the population in extreme poverty from 44 percent in 1995 to 22 percent by 2012, income poverty, as measured by the proportion of people whose income is less than the Total Consumption Poverty Line, in the country remained high, generalised, and almost constant at above 70 percent since 1995, as shown in the table below:

According to the PICES 2011/12 survey, the average annual household cash income is $2 154, translating to an average monthly gross cash income of $180 per household.

The data also shows that there are differences in the various districts with the 2011/12 survey showing that household poverty prevalence is highest in Nkayi district with 95.5 percent, and lowest in Marondera rural district with 52.3 percent.  It also varies across provinces with Matabeleland North having the highest number of households in poverty at 81.7 % with 36.9 % of these living in extreme poverty.

The latest ZimStat data on PDL from October 2017 shows that the TCPL for an average of five people per household stood at $521.81. This means that an average household required that much to purchase both food and non food items for them not to be deemed poor.  This presented a 2.22% increase from the September 2017 figure of $510.48.

The PDL also varies from one province to another due to differences in average prices per province with the TCPL being $469 in Midlands and highest in Matabeleland North  at $571.


Based on the official statistics, the claim by Build Zimbabwe Alliance that, 38 years after independence, 72% of people in the country still live under the poverty datum line is correct.

The  figure might be higher since these are based on 2011/12 data when the World Bank still used the $1.25 a day figure as a measure of poverty instead of the current $1.90 introduced in 2015.

The PICES 2016/17 survey results are expected this year and ZimFact will update this fact report once they are made available. – Zimfact