For months last year, while Moses Dube was home after losing his job due to Covid-19, his family went hungry most of the time, surviving on whatever they could lay their hands on.
“We ate only one meal a day. If we ate in the morning, then we wouldn’t eat at night. Or if we ate at night, then we wouldn’t eat in the morning. The children used to cry day and night,” recounted the 32-year-old from Cowdray Park.
Dube thought that with Zimbabwe’s Covid-19 lockdown being slowly eased, he would find work again as a security guard. But his hopes were dashed with the recent announcement of stricter lockdown measures.
The pandemic has been a nightmare for him, and his world has collapsed, as it has for many other workers like him who have lost their jobs. His struggle for survival reflects what a number of Zimbabweans are going through.
The world has never faced a hunger emergency like this, and according to experts it could double the number of people facing acute hunger to 265 million by the end of this year.
The lockdowns that were instituted in response to the Covid-19 pandemic ravaged economies around the world. In a developing country such as Zimbabwe, poverty often manifests in hunger or poor nutrition (unbalanced, carbohydrate-rich diets, for example).
“We don’t have any money, and now we need to survive. That means not eating much.
We are already thinking of selling things that we don’t use in the house to be able to eat,” said Pauline Dembo, who lost her job at a jewelry business, and lives in two rooms with her child and four other relatives.
While affluent Zimbabweans stocked their pantries with food in preparation for the lockdown, and some are still stocking, poor people were unable to do so. With basics such as mealie-meal being expensive, many fear they may not survive.
According to the International Monetary Fund, Zimbabwe has the second largest informal economy as a percentage of its total economy in the world, after Bolivia. In a working paper titled, “Shadow Economies Around the World:
What Did We Learn Over the Last 20 Years?” in which 158 economies were studied, Zimbabwe, with a score of 60, 6 percent, came second to Bolivia which topped at 62, 3 percent.
Most security guards, cleaners, streets vendors, garbage collectors and domestic helps do not have access to pensions, sick leave, paid leave or any kind of insurance. Many do not have bank accounts, relying on cash to meet their daily needs.
Already, these people have been the hardest hit and have been feeling the pain.
The sayings: “I would rather die of coronavirus than hunger” or “It’s either we die of hunger or of coronavirus, we have to choose” or “Hunger will kill us before corona does”, are common among them.
Now, because of quarantines and confinement, stoppages and curfews, there is no work.
No work means no income. No income, no food.
Without alternative income sources, the International Labour Organisation warned: “These workers and their families will have no means to survive.”
The World Food Programme (WFP) warned that 7, 7 million Zimbabweans — about half the population — would face food insecurity this year.
The agency said it needed $111 million to support the less privileged.
“WFP is determined to ensure that it continues to meet the urgent food and nutrition needs of almost 4 million people in Zimbabwe who depend on food assistance,” said WFP communications officer Claire Nevil.
WFP’s and other donor organisations efforts should be applauded, but it is sad that not every poor Zimbabwean benefits from the assistance.
Dube mentioned that part of the reason they have to struggle was that other communities receive food assistance, but where he stays they have not yet received anything.
Dube’s resident chairperson Lindiwe Sibanda echoed the same sentiments.
“Life is very hard here because of this pandemic. Dube is one of the residents who usually comes to my house to ask for mealie-meal. I used to give them but right now I don’t have. I am also struggling,” said Sibanda.
She added: “You might be shocked if I tell you that some residents have figured out there are edible tree leaves and that is what they are surviving on these days. That is our reality in Cowdray Park. I heard some people in different areas got food but we have not received any.”
The coronavirus pandemic has brought hunger to millions of people around the world. National lockdowns and social distancing measures are drying up work and incomes, and are likely to disrupt agricultural production and supply routes, leaving millions to worry how they will get enough to eat.
The coronavirus has sometimes been called an equaliser because it has sickened both rich and poor, but when it comes to food, the commonality ends. It is poor people, including large segments of poorer nations, who are now going hungry and facing the prospect of starving.