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In Zimbabwe people fear starvation even more than coronavirus

Written by Tearfund | 29 Apr 2020

Zimbabwe food shortages (photo: David Mutua/Tearfund)

For the people of Zimbabwe, an outbreak of coronavirus could be devastating. But many say hunger feels like the more immediate danger.

‘The real danger for us is hunger. If I stay at home as recommended by the government, my family will starve. Who will feed them?’ says Jonas, a father of three in Harare.

Like much of the world, Zimbabwe is currently on a national lockdown. The restrictions come at a time when much of southern Africa has been facing severe droughts caused by the climate crisis. This has led to families struggling to feed themselves.

It’s also a nation with a crippled economy, high unemployment and soaring inflation. According to its government, more than 50 per cent of people struggle to put a meal on the table. In the last few weeks there has also been a rise in the number of Malaria cases reported, with 201 outbreaks in different parts of the country, according to Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health.

Thankfully, official numbers of coronavirus cases have been relatively low so far compared to Western Europe (32 cases as of 28 April), but the impact of lockdown is already putting great strain on people’s lives. If a major outbreak hits, the health system will struggle to cope without basic resources like gloves, painkillers and even doctors. 

Piling on the pressure
In the Zimbabwean language of Shona there is a saying: 'kuwedzera nhamo pane imwe nhamo', which translates as ‘adding problems onto other problems’. According to Earnest Maswera, Tearfund’s Country Director for Zimbabwe, the phrase is on many people’s lips right now.

‘Much of southern Africa has been facing severe droughts caused by the climate crisis.’

Earnest goes on to say, ‘If it was just the disease I guess we could find somewhere to start from, but then the disease has brought with it a lockdown – a real lockdown – and this is so hard for people.’

For 36-year-old Tafadzwa coronavirus is leaving people stretched. ‘Our nets are completely empty and this will only make things worse,’ he says. ‘The struggle is real in Zimbabwe and it seems it’s never good news for us.’

The lockdown also means children can’t go to school. For 14-year-old Mary*, whose mother is an office cleaner in Harare, it’s a sad time. ‘I’m losing my education as we don’t have any WiFi at home so I can’t do any research.’ She’s also worried about other children. ‘Street children rely on people going out to work [to beg for money and food], but I don’t know how they will survive.’

‘'The struggle is real in Zimbabwe and it seems it’s never good news for us.'’

Reaching those in need
Since the start of the coronavirus crisis, Tearfund has been working with all four of our partner organisations in the country. Our response has included:

• Sharing information on how to prevent the spread of the disease.
• Building water tanks, providing soap and encouraging handwashing.
• Speaking out against the dangers of gender-based violence, which is more likely during lockdown; and helping survivors to be able to access support.
• Distributing cash to vulnerable families who can’t buy food or basic necessities. 

Idzai Murimba, Tearfund’s Deputy Country Director in Zimbabwe says: ‘We were praying and hoping that 2020 will be the year when God will usher us into a new season of rebuilding in Zimbabwe, but it seems that’s not the case. On the other hand, there is hope that God can intervene in a way that spares the nation from the worst possible scenario.’

Please join us in prayer for Zimbabwe at this time of great challenges on many fronts.


Father God,

We lift up to you in prayer those who are struggling in Zimbabwe – the fearful, the hungry, the sick. May the coronavirus not spread any further and grant the government wisdom on when to lift the lockdown. In a nation facing so many challenges, may you be the hope and salvation of its people. 

In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

Tearfund works in more than 50 countries and we are doing all we can to stand with the most vulnerable people at this time. If you feel led to support this vital work, please click here to give.

*name changed to protect identity

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Written by  Tearfund

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