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From starvation to coronavirus, Zimbabwe’s problems keep piling

Saturday March 28 2020
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Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association treasurer Tapiwa Mungofa briefs journalists in Harare on Thursday. He said doctors would boycott work if the government does not provide them with protective gear as the war on Covid-19 intensifies. PHOTO | AFP

By KITSEPILE NYATHI

In Harare

The Covid-19 outbreak is expected to worsen Zimbabwe’s problems as the southern African country grapples with a tanking economy, the worst food shortages in decades and a collapsing health system, observers warn.

Zimbabwe, which has been battling a long running economic crisis, has recorded three cases of the deadly disease with one fatality so far.

Manufacturing and other sectors have projected a calamitous year ahead since the country is heavily dependent on China for raw materials.

A mini survey by the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) revealed that the country’s manufacturing has suffered a 46 per cent disruption in supply chains following the outbreak of the Covid-19 in China at the end of last year.

The disease has since spread to almost all parts of the globe, with South Africa – Zimbabwe’s largest trading partner – now the worst hit on the continent.

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“Local factories will obviously suffer the effects of the pandemic since China is the largest source of raw materials and equipment,” CZI said.

“Zimbabwe will experience major dislocations in exports and imports as the virus spreads and countries adopt restrictive responses that curb manufacturing.”

Last month, the International Monetary Fund revised downwards Zimbabwe’s economic growth forecast for the second time inside three months, slashing its own projection from 2.7 to a mere 0.8 per cent.

IMF citied a devastating drought, a sharp rise in inflation and policy missteps by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government as some of the reasons for the projected slump.

Economists said the country – already facing a staggering HIV/Aids burden, mass starvation and economic stagnation – is too fragile to handle a pandemic.

Eddie Cross, an economist and former opposition lawmaker, said Zimbabwe faces a “perfect storm” because as the country is already in the middle of a multifaceted humanitarian crisis.

“I hate to say it but we are in for a rough time. Our wet season is almost over and we are sitting on about 450 millimetres – half our normal rainfall – here in Harare,” Cross said.

“We have had enough for our trees and grass but the rivers have not run as normal and our dams are about 60 per cent. It means livestock will struggle and our towns and cities are at risk of water shortages.”

He added that the country faces a shortage of water for the next planting seasons.

Cross said Zimbabwe’s economic frailties have left it at the mercy of the deadly virus that has already grounded tourism, the main source of revenue.

Most companies have scaled down operations.

He said health care is already in a crisis and that the government has no money to turn the situation around.

“We have no defences. Our hospitals are moribund. We have very few ventilators, probably less than 200 intensive care unit beds in the country and our health workers have limited protective clothing,” Cross said.

“The extent of our problem was well illustrated by the death of a young journalist just days after being diagnosed with the virus.”

Zororo Makamba, a 30-year-old popular broadcaster, became Zimbabwe’s first recorded case of Covid-19 death early this week.

His family said the main centre designated to handle coronavirus cases had no oxygen and ventilators.

Zimbabwe has one of the highest HIV/Aids prevalence rates in the world, with an estimated 1.3 million people having the virus in 2017.

Aid agencies say more than eight million people – over half the country’s population – will need food aid this year after poor harvests due to droughts and collapsing agriculture.

Hilal Elver, the UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food, late last year said Zimbabwe was on the brink of a man-made starvation.

UN High Commission for Human Rights head Michelle Bachelet said Zimbabwe – alongside other countries facing Western sanctions like Venezuela, Iran and Cuba – need a reprieve to deal with coronavirus.

“These states have frail or weak health systems,” Bachelet said in a statement this week.

“Progress in upholding human rights is essential to improve those systems – but obstacles to the import of vital medical supplies, including over-compliance with sanctions by banks – will create long-lasting harm to vulnerable communities.”

Zimbabwe says its economy has been destroyed due to sanctions imposed on the country by the European Union, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand since 2002.

Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa said the country welcomes the call by the UN to lift sanctions on Zimbabwe.

“These powerful countries want to strangle Zimbabwe,” the minister said.

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