A UNITED Nations expert Thursday warned of mass starvation in Zimbabwe akin to that of war-torn countries like Somalia and Yemen.
Presenting a preliminary statement at the end of her 11-day visit, Hilal Elver, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, said man-made starvation was slowly making its way into Zimbabwe.
Elver said people she met in the drought-affected areas of Masvingo and Mwenezi – located in the driest regions of the country – told her that they ate only one portion of cooked maize-meal a day.
This was despite the constitutional protection of the right to food and a set of human-rights based national laws and policies.
Zimbabwe is among the four most food insecure States, alongside other conflict ravaged countries, the expert noted.
“More than 60% of the population of a country once seen as the breadbasket of Africa is now considered food-insecure, with most households unable to obtain enough food to meet basic needs due to hyperinflation,” Elver, who also presented her findings to government, said.
“In rural areas, a staggering 5.5 million people are currently facing food insecurity, as poor rains and erratic weather patterns are impacting harvests and livelihoods. In urban areas, an estimated 2.2 million people are food-insecure and lack access to minimum public services, including health and safe water.“
She continued: “These are shocking figures and the crisis continues to worsen due to poverty and high unemployment, widespread corruption, severe price instabilities, lack of purchasing power, poor agricultural productivity, natural disasters, recurrent droughts and unilateral economic sanctions.”
Elver said women and children were bearing the brunt of the crisis.
“The majority of the children I met were stunted and underweight,” she said. “Child deaths from severe malnutrition have been rising in the past few months. Ninety percent of Zimbabwean children aged six months to two years are not consuming the minimum acceptable diet,” she said.
The UN expert said in a desperate effort to find alternative means of livelihood, some women and children were resorting to coping mechanisms that violate their most fundamental human rights and freedoms.
As a result school drop-outs, early marriage, domestic violence, prostitution and sexual exploitation were on the rise throughout Zimbabwe.
Women, the elderly and children were barely able to meet their minimum food needs and were largely dependent on food assistance, while most of the men were abroad seeking work, she added.
“Without access to a diversified and nutritious diet, rural Zimbabweans, particularly younger children, barely survive,” she said, adding that the agricultural and food system needed immediate reform.
“I strongly urge the government to take the necessary measures to reduce the country’s dependence on imported food, particularly maize and to support alternative wheats to diversify the diet. The government should create conditions for the production of traditional seeds to ensure the country’s self-sufficiency and preparedness for the climate shocks that hit the country.”
The Special Rapporteur said the crisis in Zimbabwe’s cities was no less severe than in rural areas.
“I witnessed some of the devastating consequences of the acute economic crisis in the streets of Harare, with people waiting for hours on long lines in front of gas stations, banks, and water dispensaries,” she said.
Elver also said she received “disturbing” information that public hospitals had been reaching out to humanitarian organisations after their own medicines and food stocks were exhausted.
Elver also got indications that the distribution of land and food had been manipulated for political ends throughout the last two decades, favouring those who supported the ruling political party.
“I call on the Government of Zimbabwe to live up to its zero-hunger commitment, without any discrimination,” Elver said.