EDITORIAL COMMENT: We shouldn’t be starving

LAST week, government declared the 2015/16 cropping season a national disaster to enable it to put together the resources required to fend off starvation.
Government wants to raise US$1,5 billion to feed an estimated three million people who are in urgent need of food handouts following drought currently ravaging parts of the sub region in the wake of the El Nino weather phenomenon.
While we are relieved that government has declared the season a national disaster, we cannot understand why it took this long for the country’s leadership to take such an important step.
As early as January 2015, agricultural experts had warned of the impending drought in some parts of southern Africa, including Zimbabwe. Institutions such as the Famine Early Warning Systems Network and the Meteorological Office had also flagged the affected nations to prepare for the eventuality, but as usual, not many people took heed. When disaster struck, like in this case, it must be appreciated that assistance can only be made available after a formal request has been made by government. It is therefore always advisable to approach funders early to enable them to accommodate such requests in their budgets especially in the case of disasters that can be foretold.
Don’t they say an early bird always catches the worm?
Zambia, despite its food situation not as desperate as that of Zimbabwe, had by January last year started engaging international partners to help the country enhance its food security situation. Zambian President, Edgar Lungu, had a meeting with World Food Programme executive director, Ertharin Cousin, in Lusaka in January 2015 where he appealed to the United Nations body to complement his government’s efforts in promoting irrigation-fed agriculture, especially among smallholder farmers.
Malawi is also ahead of Zimbabwe in the queue; having appealed for international help as early as September 2015 after realising that 17 percent of its population (or 2,8 million people) faced starvation.
Zimbabwe should have done the same. In fact, it should have been first in the queue.
There is absolutely no valid reason to justify why government left it until this late to acknowledge the obvious.
On several occasions, government has been caught napping.
The Civil Protection Act Number 5 of 1989 vests the responsibility of coordinating Zimbabwe’s disaster response on the Ministry of Local Government, which must commandeer resources for purposes of mitigating disasters and, in that regard, establishing, coordinating and directing activities of both public and private emergence services.
It is sad that red tape, complacency and utter lack of seriousness on the part of government has, for the umpteenth time, delayed a national response to the crisis thereby putting the lives of many people at risk.
Now, that the season has been declared a national disaster, government must make it easy for those who are willing to assist by facilitating the smooth flow of aid while avoiding the politicisation of food aid.
Given the abundance of water bodies in the country, it is actually tragic that Zimbabwe finds itself in this situation.
Everything being equal, no one should be starving in Zimbabwe.
In future government must therefore make it a point that no one starves in the medium to long-term by fully utilising the country’s dams and lakes through the promotion of irrigation schemes.
Also, we must capacitate only those farmers who mean serious business and kick out from the farms those who think they can speculate on the land.

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