Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe declared a state of disaster Thursday, with the hope of speeding up the flow of aid to needy communities.
The drought has devastated crops and sharply reduced rainfall. The situation is especially acute in Zimbabwe, where a declining economy and rising unemployment have made life hard for many people in a country once known as a regional breadbasket.
The number of Zimbabweans in need of urgent food aid has spiked to about one quarter of the population of 13 million people, according to the U.N. World Food Program. That number could go even higher and the food crisis could spill into next year, said Prisca Mupfumira, Zimbabwe’s minister for public service, labor and social welfare.
Families are going up to two weeks without a solid meal in Madan’ombe, a village in Masvingo province in southern Zimbabwe.
Loveness Ndlovu and her six children prepare smoked fish on a fireplace in a round hut devoid of any other food. The children, who last tasted meat a month ago, know better than to salivate over the six catfish caught in a lake by their father, Zimaniwa.
“They can only touch the fish, they cannot eat,” Ndlovu said. “It’s two weeks now since I last had a proper meal. If it gets worse, I will have to beg from other villagers so I can at least feed my kids.”
The parents plan to barter the fish for other foodstuffs such as maize. Ordinarily, the entire family would be busy in the fields, weeding a knee-high maize crop. Now they can only watch as skinny donkeys graze on failed crops. Vast fields lie dry and fallow.
A nearby shopping center is packed with food items such as rice, the staple maize meal and cooking oil, mostly imported from neighboring South Africa. But with mines and other industries closing because of economic problems, people can’t afford to buy them.
Some villagers, however, trade maize for fish.