HARARE - Zimbabwe is facing its worst food insecurity in recent memory, with more than five million people in need of assistance until the next harvest begins in April, the World Food Program says.
Eddie Rowe, head of the WFP in Zimbabwe, says the need for food assistance was once confined to rural areas, but now some 2 million people in urban areas also need help.
"We are talking of urban poverty where you have not just food insecurity but high rates of unemployment," he said. "So, when you look at it now, what we are trying to do is for us to come together for us to be able to intervene in an integrated manner. So it's not just addressing food insecurity, but addressing urban poverty."
The Rome-based U.N. agency said food assistance in Zimbabwe was started early this year because of the ailing economy, recurring droughts and the impact of Cyclone Idai in March.
"It's bad," Rowe said. "I have been in Zimbabwe for roughly just under five years. When you look at trend analysis and the situation right now, l think in the history of this country, you have more hungry people than ever before in Zimbabwe."
Brian Nichols, U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe, spoke this week after the United States gave $41.9 million for food assistance.
"The agricultural sector in Zimbabwe has the potential to revive this economy," he said. "However, this has been jeopardized by years of mismanagement of resources. We support Zimbabwe's renewed efforts to tackle corruption, which along with political reforms can increase growth and investment confidence."
The government says irrigation is the key to reviving the agricultural sector and ending the food shortages.
"We have a very big potential for irrigation in Zimbabwe which is currently underutilized," said Conrad Zawe, irrigation development director in Zimbabwe's Ministry of Agriculture. "Zimbabwe has got a lot of dams, two big rivers — Zambezi and Limpopo — which can be utilized for irrigation."
The government, working with the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization, is repairing irrigation systems on the country's farms, most of which have been neglected over the last 20 years.
But even with the irrigation systems working, Zimbabwe will need several months to reap a new harvest and overcome the hunger so many of its people are experiencing.