By Lungelo Ndhlovu
Over 130,000 urban dwellers in Bulawayo and Harare are receiving monthly financial support from the World Food Programme (WFP) to cushion them from the economic hardships caused by prolonged lockdowns to slow down the spread of Covid-19, it has emerged.
The lockdowns that were first imposed in March last year have caused massive job losses in Zimbabwe’s urban areas at a time the country’s vulnerable groups were already struggling to put food on the table due to successive droughts and a tough economic environment.
At least 5,6 million Zimbabweans need food assistance before the 2021 harvest season, the WFP said in a recent report.
Mads Schack Lindegard, country director for DanChurchAid, which is implementing the WFP financial assistance programme for urban dwellers, said they had arranged with different supermarket groups for vulnerable families to buy groceries using a smart card.
“The reason we have done this is that we can see now that the coronavirus crisis has hit urban livelihoods very hard. A lot of people have lost their jobs and livelihoods due to the coronavirus outbreak,” Schack said.
“So, we just want to keep hunger away from the door as much as possible by temporarily ensuring that the most hard-hit families can get their groceries.”
Beneficiaries get US$12 a month, which is loaded into a card that is accepted by major supermarkets such as OK Zimbabwe, Spar and Pick n Pay.
“People are transferring very smartly with a card, it’s like a credit card where you get US$12 dollars on a monthly basis,” Schack said.
“We have agreements with a lot of supermarkets such as OK, Pick n Pay, Spar and a whole lot of supermarkets.
“People can take the card and go down to the supermarket and make sure that the family has the basic groceries they need, and not to go hungry.”
He said in implementing the programme, Dan Church Aid was working with the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations, European Union emergency response mechanism and the WFP.
“We are the implementing partners, and they are the funding partners,” Schack said.
Sithulisile Ngwenya, a mother of four from Bulawayo, said the WFP intervention had saved her family from hunger during the lockdown.
“I’m so grateful to be part of this food (relief) programme,” Ngwenya said.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has a huge impact on residents’ daily socio-economic wellbeing because a lot of families survived on selling vegetables and other things in town, but they are not able to go out and do so due to the lockdown.
She said she was finding it increasingly difficult to source food for her children because she was unemployed.
“I’m the sole breadwinner with no employment,” Ngwenya added. “So, it is difficult to put food on the table for my children.”
Last year, Zimbabwe set aside $87 million to cushion informal economy players during the Covid-19 lockdowns, but the disbursement of the resources continues to be mired in controversy.
The government in February said 310,000 people had benefited from the facility, but most associations representing informal traders said their members had not been able to access the funds.