HARARE – Hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans in drought ravaged areas are living on wild fruits and competing with wild animals to access scarce food and water amid intensifying hunger.
Legislators made an impassioned plea to the Daily News yesterday to highlight the plight of villagers, warning that the rural folk could starve to death unless food relief efforts are intensified immediately.
The situation is increasingly getting desperate, with reports from Gutu suggesting that villagers have resorted to buying maize and maize meal at night to ward off beggars.
DIRE STRAITS…Young boys pick maize grain that spilt along a highway in Zimbabwe. Pic: New York Times
Villagers in Chin’ombe, Zvavahera, Chitsa, Munyikwa and Chin’ai were said to be under the deadly grip of famine.
“The people are now in the habit of buying maize or maize meal at night,” said Tofanei Mutambu of Zvidzai Village in Chin’ombe communal lands.
“You have to go with a big suitcase to hide it so that you don’t attract unnecessary attention from other villagers, because they will swarm your home begging for food for their families.”
Other villagers said people were visiting the grinding mill at night because of the same reasons.
Chenai Makombo from Munyikwa said: “Besides going to the grinding meal at night, some people no longer carry the whole 25-litre buckets or the 20 kg bag of maize for grinding. You have to go there with small quantities like 5kgs so that people will think that you are also struggling.”.
In the drought-prone district of Muzarabani, which lies in Mashonaland Central, villagers were said to be surviving on wild fruits.
“Things are bleak this side and people are surviving on baobab fruit (mauyu),” said Alfred Mafunga, MP for Muzarabani North.
“Just yesterday, we went to GMB (Grain Marketing Board) to scrounge for food for the elderly.
“Boreholes have since dried up and people are now travelling long distances to fetch water from Mukumbura River.”
William Mutomba, MP for Buhera North in Manicaland Province said a humanitarian crisis was unfolding in the district, with villagers now under threat from marauding wild animals such as hyenas frantically searching for food as well.
“I cannot hide this,” Mutomba said. “We have a crisis here and people are suffering. Food from the government takes long to get here and when it finally does, it is barely enough.
“To make matters worse, we do not have much of wild fruits and where they are available, people have to compete with wild animals because they are also affected by the drought.”
Kalisto Gwanetsa, Zanu PF legislator for Chiredzi South, said villagers in his constituency were staring hunger in the face.
“The situation is difficult because there is nothing for people to eat,” he said.
“At the end of the day, it is the government which is coming to the rescue. Life is hard but against all odds, people are somehow surviving.”
In Matabeleland North, the situation is desperate.
“The situation is desperate when you travel on the gravel roads everyone you come across will be chewing matohwe or uxauxau,” said Abednico Bhebhe, MP for Nkayi South.
“People don’t have anything else to eat but wild fruits and roots. Because of the situation, people have been reduced to having a single meal a day.
“The situation is even worse for livestock which is already dying from hunger.
“Instead of people relying on livestock for farming and as an income earner, they cannot trade now, because the animals are so thin.”
In Matabeleland South’s Bulilima, an invasion by elephants has resulted in the giant mammals drinking dry the little water available.
“There is no water because elephants drank all that was left from the dams. With this situation people are going to starve,” said Lungisani Nleya, MP for Bulilima West.
Annually, Zimbabwe, once known as the breadbasket of southern Africa, requires two million tonnes of grain to feed its people and livestock, but only posted a meagre 968 000 tonnes for the 2011-2012 season.
Prospects for the forthcoming season are even dimmer as people turn to commercial crops such as tobacco at the expense of traditional cereal grains.
To meet domestic needs, President Robert Mugabe said the country would import maize from regional neighbours such as Zambia, but the neighbouring country is now demanding cash up-front.
“To make matters worse, unrest in neighbouring Mozambique, which is a vital conduit for transportation of grain, fertiliser, rice and fuel for landlocked Zimbabwe, was compounding the situation.
“A United Nations food agency says Zimbabwe is facing “a looming food crisis” with 2,2 million people expected to need emergency food aid in the coming months.
The UN World Food Programme has already started parcelling handouts to struggling villagers.
Rising hunger, mostly in the southern districts, according to the UN, is caused by erratic weather, the high cost and shortages of seed and fertiliser in the troubled economy and a 15 percent rise in prices for the maize staple after poor harvests this year.
In years of political and economic turmoil, Zimbabwe needed regular food handouts.
About 1,4 million people in the population of almost 13 million received food aid last year.