Analysis of the context, crisis and needs
In 2021, 6.8 million people will need humanitarian assistance in Zimbabwe, primarily due to climatic shocks and prevailing macro-economic challenges, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the past year, the cost of basic commodities has significantly increased. Poverty is estimated to have affected at least 47 per cent (7.6 million people) of the country’s population in 2020, up from 40 per cent (6.6 million people) in 2019. Women, who constitute 65 per cent of the informal sector, are disproportionately affected by economic hardship.
Following relatively good 2019/2020 seasonal rains and a major scale-up in food assistance, there was a reduction in severe food insecurity in 2020 compared to 2019. However, nearly 3.4 million people in rural areas are projected to face Crisis or Emergency (IPC Phase 3 or above) food insecurity during the 2020/2021 lean season (January-March) and 2.3 million people in urban communities are projected to be food insecure in 2021. Households saw an average 51.5 per cent reduction in income in 2020 compared to 2019, according to the ZimVAC. An estimated 1.2 million people in IPC Phase 2 (Stressed) would be at least one phase worse were it not for ongoing assistance. It is vital that this assistance be continued throughout the 2020/2021 lean season.
Zimbabwe saw a sharp increase in protection concerns during the COVID-19 lockdown, including gender-based violence, in 2020. From January to September 2020, 5,507 GBV cases were reported through the National GBV Hotline, a 200 per cent increase compared with the same timeframe in 2019.
Children have been uniquely impacted by the prevailing humanitarian situation. Over 4.6 million children lost access to education and referral mechanisms provided in schools, while over 1.7 million children lost access to school feeding programmes. The humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe has caused a decrease in quality dietary habits, while access to nutrition services has been disrupted. Distressed households have reported increased use of negative coping mechanisms including child labor, early marriage and transactional sex, while economic challenges are creating barriers for children’s return to education, especially for girls.
Projected situation in 2021 and beyond
The Zimbabwean economy remains unpredictable and inflation is likely to continue in 2021. In 2020, month-on-month inflation peaked at 35.53 in July, while year-on-year inflation peaked at 785.6 per cent in May. The stressed macro-economic environment is unlikely to improve in the immediate-term and is expected to negatively impact on household livelihoods, incomes and access to basic commodities, as highlighted in the 2020 ZimVac.
Forecasts of rain offer a more positive outlook for the 2020/2021 season, crop production is expected to improve and efforts are underway to boost agricultural production, including through conservation agriculture methods (“Pfumvuzda”). However, production will remain 30 per cent below the five-year and ten-year averages and multiple risks could negatively impact the 2020/2021 harvest, including the African Migratory Locust outbreak. The forecasted above-average rainfall could create a favourable breeding environment for an outbreak and swarms and hoppers are already seen in Manicaland Providence and Hwange. If uncontrolled, locust damage to crops would have a multiplier effect on food insecurity in communities already affected by previous droughts and COVID-19.
Disruptions to critical services -including Child Protection, Education, Health and WASH- are likely to persist, due to floods, drought, COVID-19, prevailing economic challenges, potential industrial action by critical civil servants and power outages. The economic situation has constrained access to reproductive healthcare and the pandemic is straining aging health infrastructure. Power cuts have disrupted care for critically-ill patients and essential drugs and commodities have faced stockouts. Average to above-average rainfall -forecast for the 2020-2021 rainy season- and worsening access to clean water and appropriate sanitation, could increase the risk of water-borne disease outbreaks, particularly during the first half of 2021.
Response priorities in 2021
The 2021 Zimbabwe Humanitarian Response Plan calls for $505.5 million to provide life-saving and life-sustaining assistance to nearly 4.5 million people out of the estimated 6.8 million in need. In consultation with the Government of Zimbabwe, the HRP prioritizes response to floods, drought, COVID-19 and the prevailing economic situation. The 2021 portfolio of projects has been robustly prioritized through a two-step process. Clusters undertook intensive sectoral reviews of planned activities against the severity of needs and partner capacity. They then reviewed each other's proposals to remove duplication and promote synergies in tackling critical issues that require multi-sectoral response (e.g. gender-based violence, malnutrition, disease outbreaks). This also allowed them to collectively and effectively tackle cross-cutting issues, including the centrality of protection, gender-sensitive response and the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse.
The reduction in financial requirements from 2020 to 2021 reflects this rigorous process, rather than a reduction in the scale of the crisis. It was also an intensive effort, undertaken in close coordination with development actors, to determine which activities will go into the HRP, versus those to be incorporated into development frameworks, including the new United Nations Strategic Development Cooperation Framework. Lastly, cash-based programming was incorporated into the HRP, wherever feasible.