In January this year Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe declared a state of disaster especially in the rural areas mainly caused by drought which already has killed herds of livestock with people facing food shortages.

Despite declaring the drought a state of disaster, Mugabe seems not to care much, he even hosted his lavish 92nd birthday in Masvingo last month in the drought stricken area and never dared to even visit those affected, preferring to go AWOL to India.

Suffice to say the country has been experiencing drought before, but it all seems we are always caught off guard and failed to come up with long term mitigating mechanisms to avert future disasters of this type, which I would be discussing later in the article.

Agriculture contributes about 19% of the county’s GDP and for the past 15 years, Zimbabwe’s agricultural output has been decreasing and productivity has been very low. Zimbabwe mainly depends on maize which is the staple diet in most households.

A paper published by Zimbabwe’s Met Department in 2015 posits that the drought experienced during the 1991/1992 season, for example, maize production decreased by almost 75 percent leaving a large percentage of the population in dire need of food aid. The Grain Marketing Board (GMB) domestic maize intake during the 1992 drought year was about 13 000 tonnes – just enough for two days consumption for the nation. Over one million head of cattle died of starvation during the year.

Drought returned in 1993 and 1994 2002, 2004 and 2012 seasons which also affected livelihoods. The severe drought of 1992 compelled the government to declare a “National Disaster” throughout the whole country.

By the end of that year 5 602 568 people were on the drought relief registers. This figure translated to 74% of the rural population. During the 2002 drought almost 4 million Zimbabweans survived on food aid.

This time the drought has been worsened by the El Niño weather phenomenon which has also affected South Africa, Malawi and Zambia as well as Zimbabwe, destroying crops and livestock as a result.

In light of this development, the Zimbabwe Vulnerable Assessment Committee had estimated that about 1.5 million people had been affected by El Nino. However the Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Prisca Mupfumira, as reported in the state owned Herald newspaper,stated that instead the number of those in need of food aid has ballooned to 4 million.

The figures are just estimates and the actual numbers of those in vulnerable situations maybe more. As this is happening, the government, some NGOs, politicians mostly from ZANU PF have already started distributing food hand outs to the ‘affected’ areas, with President Mugabe’s wife Grace leading, mainly through her Meet the People rallies.

It is reported (Herald 15 March 2016) that President Mugabe donated about 60 tonnes in Bikita South and the aid was handed over to villagers by ZANU PF Masvingo Province secretary for the commissariat Mr Jappy Jaboon. Quite intriguing were the words of Jaboon during his address:

”Our president has the people at heart’ so let’s continue supporting him…lets continue supporting him because of his impeccable record as a man of the people especially the poor.”

This already smacks doom and it is now clear that ZANU PF will use food as a campaign tool. This is despite that the 1996 World Summit on Food Security declared that “food should not be used as an instrument for political and economic pressure”

We need a holistic approach, transparency and honesty in dealing with this drought. The government has over the years failed to distribute food to the needy in times like these, with some denied food on the basis of political affiliation. According to a report compiled by Human Rights Watch on the2002 drought, ZANU PF was heavily implicated in partisan food distribution and for years, has been abusing government departments concerned with food aid.

This trend is likely going to continue as ZANU PF and the use of traditional leaders in the distribution of aid has made the situation worse. The same traditional leaders are often used to intimidate and coerce villagers to vote for ZANU PF. ZANU PF’s strategy has always been to starve opponents into submission. Nothing has really changed despite statements by Minister Mupfumira that food is not being distributed along political affiliation, as reports have already been filtering of the politicisation of food aid.

With the high numbers of Zimbabweans in need of food, there is no guarantee that the food will be fairly distributed and this will only but aggravate the situation as those in need will likely face starvation. The government alone has proved its ineffectiveness in addressing the plight of those facing starvation, there is a need for an independent taskforce with all stakeholders, including farmers, academics, NGOs, churches and the government in handling food distribution.

Politicians should be barred in distributing food aid because of the danger it poses in the likelihood of others being excluded. Worse still for food aid distribution at a political rally. This clearly excludes those that do not subscribe to that particular party for example.

Long term mitigation

Overally, the taskforce should also be responsible coordinating the drought related activities of the government (i.e., forecasting, monitoring, impact assessment, response and recovery, and planning).

Equally, the government needs to improve food security in general, going beyond short term responses but rather coming up with long term mechanisms to protect peoples’ livelihoods. We need as a country, a more proactive, anticipatory approach to drought management rather than to act while the damage has been done already.

The independent task force should come up with a national policy with extensive stakeholder and public involvement. Such a policy should therefore address the issues of risk management, although it cannot ignore the need for government assistance for some sectors during extended periods of severe drought.

Lessons learned from previous drought response attempts need to be documented through post-drought audits and shared with all stakeholders. In support of the national drought policy and plan, it is recommended that a comprehensive, integrated national climate monitoring system be established to provide early warning of drought and other extreme climate events.