EDITORIAL COMMENT: Urgent action needed

ZIMBABWE is battling with a debilitating drought that has ravaged the entire southern African region, leaving much of its population on the verge of starvation. Estimates by humanitarian organisations say at least 1,6 million people in the country are already in dire need of food aid, but the numbers may soar as the crisis escalates in the coming months.
The cause of this drought is a phenomenon called El Nino, which scientists describe as a complex weather pattern resulting from variations in ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific. While it causes floods in other areas, it has caused drought in this part of the region.
Humanitarian institutions are scrambling to mobilise resources to ensure that people in rural areas, who depend on subsistence farming for a living, do not die. But they can only do up to so much.
Government was expected to intervene in a big way to ensure lives are saved. But there has not been much beyond just announcements in newspapers that it will not allow people to die from hunger. This, if what has happened before is any precedent, may turn out to be just political banter.
Last week, reports, quoting Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor, John Mangudya, said government had secured US$200 million in credit lines for grain imports to cushion the country from a crisis.
Mangudya acknowledged that more was required. This is indeed a very noble initiative, but government should be alert to the fact that grain sourced under this facility is, apparently, for the commercial market and will do very little to salvage the worsening crisis in rural areas. Moreover, even the urbanites, facing ever increasing unemployment, may soon find imported grain beyond their reach, if a price spike occurs on account of global demand.
It is disheartening to note that even in the face of glaring evidence that the situation is worsening, government has not yet declared a state of emergency to prompt an international rally to alleviate a food security crisis.
By November last year, South Africa, which has the financial wherewithal to import grain to save its own people without resorting to external support, had started declaring state of emergencies in several of its provinces.
The Zimbabwe government is broke; it has no capacity to fund imports to save the number of people likely to starve as a result of the current drought. That message should be sent to the international community as a matter of urgency to allow for official support. Current efforts by donors are only voluntary and unsolicited.
The situation is likely to be dire for the entire economy. There is no need for self-importance under such circumstances. We should extend the begging bowl to the international community!

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