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HARARE April 8, 2020 – With Zimbabwe’s already severe climate- and recession-induced hunger crisis deepening and COVID-19 taking hold, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) urgently needs US$130 million to sustain through August an emergency operation to prevent millions of the country’s most vulnerable people plunging deeper into hunger.

Zimbabwe, Shamva district, 03 April 2020 WFP Zimbabwe is rolling out new risk-control measures at its food distributions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. WFP has increased the number of distributions to limit overcrowding, has distributed all protective clothing, health and safety items to the field, has installed hand-washing facilities and is ensuring social distancing. WFP and its partners have launched a communications campaign to pass important health, safety and hygiene information, via SMS, radio and in small community meetings. In the Photo: a group of beneficiaries are seen physically distancing at a WFP food distribution where new health and safety measures have been rolled out to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the country. Madziwa Secondary School, Shamva district, Zimbabwe. Photo: WFP/Claire Nevill

A recent nationwide assessment – the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) – shows that the number of acutely food insecure Zimbabweans has risen to 4.3 million, from 3.8 million at the end of last year.

“With most Zimbabweans already struggling to put food on the table, the COVID pandemic risks even wider and deeper desperation,” said Eddie Rowe, WFP’s Country Director. “We must all do our utmost to prevent this tragedy turning into a catastrophe.”

WFP assistance in recent months has helped ease hunger in six of nine districts classified late last year as suffering “emergency” food insecurity (IPC 4), allowing them to be downgraded to the less severe “crisis” level (IPC 3). However, 56 of the country’s 60 districts are now categorised as experiencing “crisis” hunger. WFP supports communities afflicted by “crisis” and “emergency” food insecurity.

WFP is planning to assist 4.1 million people in April, although insufficient funding has prevented it achieving the same monthly target since the turn of the year. In March, it reached 3.7 million of the most vulnerable Zimbabweans.

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The total number of food insecure people stands at 7.7 million, more than half the population. The US$130 million being urgently sought by WFP is part of a total food assistance sector requirement of US$472 million through December.

Cereal production in 2019 was half that of 2018, and less than half the national requirement. Experts predict that the upcoming 2020 harvest will be even poorer. Most of Zimbabwe’s food is produced by subsistence farmers dependent on a single, increasingly unreliable rainy season.

With unprecedented hyperinflation having pushed the prices of staples beyond the means of most Zimbabweans, increasingly desperate families are eating less, selling off precious belongings and going into debt.

COVID-19 threatens to exacerbate Zimbabwe’s dire economic and hunger crises, drastically affecting the lives of people in both urban and rural areas. WFP has a critical role to play by sustaining its scaled-up food assistance programme – and must be able to deliver at full capacity – while supporting the country’s response to the pandemic.

It is pre-positioning three months of food and cash assistance, rolling out new risk-control measures at distributions – increasing their number to prevent overcrowding, initiating handwashing and monitoring social distancing – and launching a communications campaign to convey essential health and safety information.