Zimbabwe is currently being hit by a drought that has left over 2.4 million people in need of food aid. The President declared a state of disaster last month following widespread crop failure, the death of thousands of livestock and near destruction of many rural people’s way of life.
Working for ActionAid in Zimbabwe I have seen people’s needs increase every day across the country. It is affecting my own family too as relatives from rural areas arrive in the capital in need of food and work.
The drought is being caused by El Niño, a phenomenon which is currently causing a warming of the weather in several parts of the world. In Zimbabwe and across southern Africa El Nino has wreaked havoc leading to reduced or delayed rains. As a result, crops are wilting beyond recovery and water sources, essential to both people and their livestock, are drying up completely.
A few days ago I visited my rural home in the north east of Zimbabwe, a place called Mudzi in Mashonaland East. Some of the farmers I met had small crops which had barely germinated, while others were still struggling to plant. The months of February and March in Zimbabwe are usually when farmers will harvest their crops, but due to the shortage of rain, many farmers are still trying to plant crops. .
There is nothing that will come out of our fields because rains delayed, said Siridzai Sabau, a relative of mine who farms in Bote village, Mudzi.
Disasters tend to have the greatest impact on women and the drought in Zimbabwe is no exception. I met Clara Guveya, a 50 year-old mother of eight, while on a food security assessment with ActionAid in Mashonaland Central province. For her, this year’s current drought is the third disaster in a row, after flooding in 2014 and then again in 2015. Each year food for her and her family is harder to come by.
“We planted our maize crop mid December 2015 but rains have been erratic since the beginning of the farming season. I planted half an acre of maize and all of it wilted beyond recovery. So I uprooted the damaged maize crop and replanted cowpeas but their germination was very poor,” Clara said to me.
We have reduced the number of times we eat in a day. We now eat once a day and usually in the evening. This time of the year is when we normally have green mealies (corn bread) and pumpkins in the morning and in the afternoon and in the evening we have sadza (thick porridge). Now we are just having sadza in the evening, Clara said.
Clara told me her biggest fear was that her five school going children would be forced to drop out of school and be left with an extremely uncertain future.
The situation for Clara, my relative Siridzai and many more farmers in the country is projected to become worse over the next few months. And for me and many other families in Zimbabwe, hunger is quite literally knocking at our doors as relatives arrive needing more and more help.
While the drought in Zimbabwe is affecting the entire country, the areas with the highest projections of food insecurity are in the south of the country. At ActionAid Zimbabwe we are already working with communities in some of the affected areas and will be scaling up our work in the next few weeks to ensure we’re supporting more people, particularly expectant mothers and women with young children.