Millions trapped between hunger and COVID-19 in Zimbabwe and Mozambique

13 MAY 2020

Zimbabwe and Mozambique are facing an imminent catastrophe as millions of vulnerable people in both countries are now trapped between hunger and coronavirus.

The COVID-19 pandemic is compounding widespread food insecurity in Southern Africa and leaving nations with fragile health and support systems with little means to protect their at risk populations.

According to the World Food Programme, the COVID-19 pandemic could double the number of people suffering acute hunger to almost 265 million, unless swift action is taken. 

Zimbabwe and Mozambique have been particularly hard hit. More than 5.8 million people in Zimbabwe and 2 million in Mozambique are impacted by food insecurity as a result of climate change and political and economic instability. The two countries have been struggling to cope with the widespread food crisis and are now pitted against the virus.

COVID-19 has worsened food crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic has severely worsened the existing food crisis. Lockdowns and restricted movements have had a huge impact on families’ abilities to earn money for food, as well as on aid agency and government access to vulnerable communities to deliver food and other assistance.

“It’s been one crisis after another for Southern Africa. From cyclones, to floods, to drought and now the pandemic. Families just cannot seem to catch a break. This pandemic could not have come at a worse time. It could potentially double the impact of the food crisis with dire consequences for millions of vulnerable people.” said Charles Businge, Plan International’s Southern Africa Director.

Fears for girls and women

Plan International is extremely concerned about the impact of compounding crises on girls and women. 

“Our research and experience show that girls and women are particularly hard-hit during emergencies, when existing inequalities are exacerbated. In Mozambique and Zimbabwe, women make up the majority of the agricultural labour force. With lockdowns and social distancing in place, women have been cut off from their basic income sources and are unable to earn enough money to buy food for themselves and their families. Girls and women are at great risk of abuse and exploitation as they fight for survival.” said Mr Businge.  

While COVID-19 originated as a health emergency, its impact on food security is also providing fertile ground for a protection crisis in Mozambique and Zimbabwe, disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable, especially girls. Rapid needs assessments revealed that food insecurity resulted in heightened protection risks for children, particularly girls, including sexual violence and exploitation, child labour and child marriage. The closure of schools, due to COVID-19, has further aggravated the risks for girls.

Girls at risk of exploitation and child marriage

Maria*, 14, from Mozambique, said “Some of the people in my community are advising young girls to marry because they believe school will not open again this year and we will add extra costs to our poor families by remaining at home.”  

Cynthia, 18, from Zimbabwe, said “My wish is to go back to school to get an education so I can either get a job or learn skills that will give me a means of livelihood to feed, clothe and raise my child and sibling well.”

The most vulnerable, particularly girls and young women, are being hit the hardest by increasing funding gaps.

Plan International is raising €100 million to protect some of the world’s most vulnerable children and their communities from the impacts of COVID-19. The organisation’s response, covering more than 50 countries, including Zimbabwe and Mozambique, is focused on assisting children, particularly girls, who are disproportionately affected by the crisis.

The organisation’s response in Southern Africa focuses on providing economic support through cash assistance to help the most vulnerable meet their food consumption and basic needs as well as working to ensure children, caregivers and communities recognise, prevent and respond to any risk of gender-based violence.