THE World Food Programme (WFP) says the government must strengthen its social security nets to compliment humanitarian aid being offered to food insecure families.
This comes at a time when the country’s food and economic crises are worsening with about eight million people facing starvation.
It also comes after the WFP recently revealed that it might be forced to downscale its food assistance and community resilience programmes due to a funding gap of US$100 million required to sustain its programmes for the next six months in the country.
WFP assistant executive director Valerie Guarnieri, who was in the country last week to assess food needs, said in order for his organisation to succeed in eliminating food insecurity, there was need for the government to strengthen social security nets.
“Every year the WFP provides vital food assistance and nutrition to over 80 million people around the world, yet there are 812 million people who do not have enough food to eat worldwide.
“In Zimbabwe, the WFP is supporting 3,4 million people and hoping to scale up its support to four million people within the next six months if the necessary funding is availed, yet the reports that I have seen indicate that about eight million people are food insecure,” Guarnieri said.
“If the WFP’s efforts to reduce the number of hungry people to zero by 2030 are to succeed, it needs to work with and through national systems, such as social protection systems.
“It is, therefore, important for the government of Zimbabwe, at this point, to establish more and to strengthen already existing social security nets in order to reduce the number of food insecure households in the country,” she added.
Guarnieri said the safety nets could include predictable and reliable subsidies, transfers of food and cash and vouchers in exchange for the building or rehabilitation of assets that will improve long-term food security and resilience to vulnerable groups.
“Coming to Zimbabwe at this visit was quite a great opportunity for me. I had a chance and pleasure to be posted to Zimbabwe from 2004 to 2006 and at the time the WFP was scaling up food assistance to over half the population given a drought, economic challenges and some of the early repercussions of the land reform effort.
“Coming back into the country for the first time in 13 years, I have been on the one end able to see that some of these challenges have resurfaced while some have persisted,” Guarnieri said.
She added: “Like the rest of Southern Africa, the country has been hit by climate change and recurring drought and this current one has been quite a bad one, very much affecting food production in the last season and now in the current season.
“Given these old and new challenges confronting the country, it is very important to strengthen social security nets while working towards economic recovery as a long term solution.”
Guarnieri further said that what was also worrying about Zimbabwe’s situation is that it is not only the rural population is in need of food assistance, but the urbanites as well.
“At the time when I was in Zimbabwe last in 2006, WFP was just starting to engage on urban programmes and it was in the wake of Operation Murambatsvina and there were some new hunger needs in the urban area.
“However, now the urban population’s need for food aid has increased immensely and it is quite worrying because targeting in urban areas is difficult and food aid tends not to be the right answer,” Guarnieri said.
She added that apart from offering food aid and setting up food aid the government should also empower vulnerable communities to engage in income generating projects.