Starvation, prostitution survival strategies

The United Nations is battling serious donor fatigue to raise $415 million urgently needed to help Zimbabweans survive a humanitarian crisis.

But facing fierce donor resistance, the appeal has attracted a paltry $54 million.

In the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs OCHA monthly report, officials say the food security situation is alarming with major donors shifting from humanitarian to transitional aid.

The report accompanying the appeal had said two million Zimbabweans were at risk due to the food shortages and about 2.2 million people – 30 percent of the adult population – lived with HIV.

The report said Zimbabwe's current crisis was not a "traditional complex emergency” and Government policies had made assistance delivery more difficult.

The report cited the government's refusal to accept genetically modified (GM) food aid amid concerns that this would affect its beef exports.

It warned even after projected imports by the World Food Programme (WFP), NGOs and the Grain Marketing Board, there would still be a glaring shortfall of maize as well as "mass starvation and further population displacement through migration across the borders of Zimbabwe”.

"An exhaustion of the traditional coping mechanisms and an increasing reliance on dangerous or damaging survival strategies were seen.

"These strategies, including poaching, prostitution and theft, if allowed to form the basis for survival for vulnerable populations, will have severe medium-term effects on the population, the natural resource base, and the environment."

The exchange of children for food had also been recorded.

"Food shortages also make it impossible for families to provide adequate food for people living with HIV. The food shortage has a particularly negative impact on children who are often asked to drop out of school and engage in child labour in order to contribute to the family income or to care for an infected family member. Cutbacks in education and separation from a child friendly environment make them more susceptible to HIV infection."

Projects covered under the appeal include the rehabilitation of water infrastructure, helping vulnerable populations increase agricultural production, helping improve fishing activities and a mass vaccination programme to protect livestock.

The health sector plans include disease surveillance, strengthening health service delivery and the procurement of vital drugs and medical supplies. Peripheral health facilities were found to have less than 30 percent of their average drug stocks. Reproductive health was found to need urgent attention.

Children, who are particularly vulnerable during the crisis would benefit from a number of projects, many to protect them from abuse.

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