It’s time to change the stakes
BLACK EDWARD – THOSE of us who were around during the 2008 economic meltdown will testify that hunger leaves paralysing wounds on a nation which continue to fester for many years, resulting in aid dependency and a vicious poverty cycle.
The coronavirus outbreak is now bringing back these distressing memories of severe hunger and of people starving to death.
We see Covid-19’s far-reaching negative effects in job losses, ever-increasing food prices and abject poverty. No one is spared, even professionals are no longer ashamed to beg for food.
And as always it is the elderly, women and children who will be hit the hardest.
By the time Zimbabwe’s award-winning photographer Annie Mpalume takes shots of skeletal elderly people clothed in rags and shrivelled children with extended bellies for the Daily News on Sunday, it will be too late to assist.
As such there is definitely need for immediate action to stop people from perishing with hunger.
Of course the situation was bad before Covid-19 — around 6 million Zimbabweans (about 34 percent of the population) lived in extreme poverty — but now the coronavirus is exacerbating it.
The pandemic is drying up the little that we have and our meagre incomes are further deteriorating while the informal sector and production activities have been adversely affected — leaving many people worrying about where the next meal will come from.
Zimbabweans are now anxious for an effective home-grown response to Covid-19 and are looking up to the government. But this is not for the government alone; we must also play our part by remembering to:
— Wash our hands thoroughly often.
— Use soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand rub.
— Maintain social distance.
— Wear face masks
— Not touch our eyes, nose or mouth.
— Cover nose and mouth with bent elbow or a tissue when we cough or sneeze.
— Stay home if we feel unwell.
— If we have a fever, a cough, and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention.
We are in this together, our calls to fight the virus and prevent hunger should be louder, and eagerly addressed. Let’s unite to deal with this pandemic. It is time to change the stakes.
Corona and economy are two sides of the same coin and have to be tackled together. It is not wise to separate Covid-19 crisis and the economy despite the fact that Zimbabwe’s economy has been shrinking since 2000. This is why, these days, we hear people say: “We can run away from Covid-19 but we can’t hide from hunger. We’ll starve to death.”
To some people the effects of the lockdowns may cause more suffering than the disease itself.
Let us not forget that extended periods of hunger can result in catastrophic developmental stunting in children. Health experts tell us that when children are chronically malnourished their brains do not develop properly.
They may suffer permanently impaired brain function. There is also a strong possibility that those suffering from the developmental legacy of hunger may become hard-core criminals out of lack of choice. As many go hungry, there is concern that food shortages will lead to social discord.
The need to save people’s lives cannot be overemphasised, so a careful balancing act is crucial.
Speaking to journalists at State House after receiving donations towards the fight against Covid-19 from businesses on Wednesday, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said: “… I came to the conclusion that if citizens die, if our people die, we cannot resuscitate them. The economy can die, it can be resuscitated now or in the future, as long as people are alive.”
On Friday he extended Zimbabwe’s national lockdown to fight the coronavirus by two more weeks and promised a $500 million package for micro and small scale enterprises.
He first announced a three-week lockdown in March and then extended that, prior to the latest extension.
The secretary-general of the Senior Hospital Doctors Association (SHDA), Aaron Musara, said: “We are caught between a rock and a hard place. We have the disease on one side and hunger on the other, as people are not working at the moment.”
Let us hope that the coronavirus, which is ripping away the inborn coping mechanisms that Zimbos have always relied upon for generations to help see families through the hard times, is not here to stay.