U.N. Launches Urgent $430m Appeal as Zimbabwe Grapples with Severe Drought Crisis

March 11th, 2024 - A field of failed maize crop in Glendale, Mashonaland Central province, Zimbabwe.
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Harare, Zimbabwe — The United Nations humanitarian agency has issued a stark warning as Zimbabwe reels under the grip of its worst drought in four decades, with approximately half of the country’s population facing urgent food and water shortages.

Launching an appeal for $430 million, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs emphasized the critical need for immediate assistance to mitigate the dire consequences of the crisis.

According to Edward Matthew Kallon, the U.N. resident humanitarian coordinator, about 7.6 million Zimbabweans urgently require “lifesaving and life-sustaining” humanitarian aid. However, the appeal specifically targets the 3.1 million people residing in the most severely affected districts over the coming year.

The drought, attributed to the El Niño weather phenomenon, has ravaged much of southern Africa, leaving communities grappling with acute shortages of food and water.

Zimbabwe, heavily reliant on agriculture and once a net exporter of food, finds itself among the worst-affected countries.

Amidst plummeting harvests, with staple corn production down by 70% from the previous season, Zimbabwe faces a daunting challenge in meeting the basic food needs of its populace. Government assessments indicate that the country requires 2.2 million tons of corn annually to sustain both human and livestock populations.

The U.N. appeal encompasses a range of interventions, including food assistance, cash transfers, and the construction of solar-powered boreholes to alleviate water scarcity for both people and livestock.

The humanitarian crisis has far-reaching implications, exacerbating vulnerabilities among children, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and increasing the risk of gender-based violence and exploitation.

In rural areas, where more than 60% of Zimbabweans reside, the drought threatens livelihoods dependent on agriculture, leaving many unable to afford food even when it is available in markets.

With children, particularly girls, often bearing the burden of fetching water over long distances, their safety is further compromised. Additionally, close to 2 million children may be forced to abandon their education due to the drought’s impact, according to the U.N. agency.

Moreover, the lack of access to clean water heightens the risk of disease outbreaks, such as cholera, amplifying the urgency for immediate intervention to avert further loss of life and livelihoods.

As Zimbabwe grapples with the unfolding humanitarian crisis, the U.N.’s appeal underscores the imperative for swift and coordinated action to address the multifaceted challenges posed by the severe drought conditions.