Food relief starts in urban areas

Source: Food relief starts in urban areas | The Sunday News May 26, 2019

Food relief starts in urban areas
Prof Mthuli Ncube

Kuda Bwititi, Harare Bureau
THE public should expect more social protection safety nets from Government as last week’s slashing of urban bus fares, by half, was one of a cocktail of measures to cushion the citizenry from the impact of ongoing economic austerity measures, Cabinet ministers have said.

Government has since started rolling out the food relief programme — which was previously reserved for rural dwellers — to urban areas, in a bid to guarantee food security countrywide. More safety nets are expected to be rolled out in health delivery, education, housing, non-monetary benefits for civil servants and affordable basic goods.

Furthermore, the United Nations said it is ratcheting up its efforts to support the country with the global body noting that current economic challenges have been worsened by drought and Cyclone Idai.

The holistic measures are meant to cushion the public, in particular the low-end members of society, from the impact of the ongoing economic reform programme, which although painful, is necessary to propel Zimbabwe.

Under his mantra “austerity for prosperity”, Finance and Economic Development Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube has explicated that the process to reform will be painful, likening it to a patient who has to take bitter medicine to heal.

A globally renowned guru in economics, Prof Ncube has said Government will complete the austerity programme by next year, at a time the current economic shocks are expected to have stabilised.

In an interview with our Harare Bureau last week, Prof Ncube said Government was cognisant of the pain that the public was undergoing and would provide “multifaceted” safety nets for the citizens.

“The social protection strategy of the Government is a multifaceted package and includes food distribution to vulnerable groups in rural and urban areas, higher budget support for basic education and health services and subsidised transportation by Zupco, inter alia,” he said.
Prof Ncube said the ravaging drought that hit the entire Southern African region and Cyclone Idai, the worst ever flood storm disaster to hit Zimbabwe, had both implanted extra burden on the fiscus. He said Government would intensify its programmes with development partners to ameliorate the impact of the two natural disasters.

“Development partners are also involved in social protection programmes involving food distribution and cash transfers. The social protection package will go a long way in ameliorating the negative impact of the drought, climate change (Cyclone Idai) and inflationary pressures.”

In a separate interview, Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Dr Sekai Nzenza said owing to the severity of this year’s drought, Government had put in place measures to ensure food security. She said provision of food relief to urban dwellers had started in Harare and Bulawayo at a slow pace and would be intensified in the coming weeks.

“The food relief programme is going well. We are covering all provinces. We have also started to identify people who are really hungry in urban areas. That is not an easy task,” she said on the sidelines of the donation of more than 10 000 tonnes of rice to vulnerable families by the Government of China.

“Our aim as a ministry is to reach everyone who is hungry, it requires systems and capacities. We have started in Chitungwiza this (last) week. In Bulawayo, we started about six weeks ago and we stopped for two weeks to ensure we get to the most vulnerable people.”

Dr Nzenza said she was updating Cabinet weekly on the food security situation, in line with President Mnangagwa’s message that “no one should go hungry.”

“By briefing Cabinet weekly, I am able to update the President and the entire Cabinet team of the situation on the ground. By so doing, we can be able to craft together strategies of some of the challenges that we face such as transportation or delays (of food distribution) to the families in need.”

United Nations resident co-ordinator Mr Bishow Parajuli said the UN was closely working with Government to reduce the impact of the economic reforms as well as the drought and Cyclone Idai.

“We had made an appeal for US$294 million. Unfortunately that is the overall need for drought relief and Idai. For Idai, we targeted about US$60 million and for the drought we targeted a need of US$234 million and we are less than 30 percent funded.

Mr Parajuli said the country’s current challenges should be looked at in “totality”. Last week, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development Mr George Guvamatanga announced the slash in bus fares saying any responsible Government should provide safety nets to vulnerable members even in the wake of austerity measures. The move dovetails with President Mnangagwa’s promise last January to cushion workers through non-monetary incentives and relief actions to ease through the austerity measures.