Covid-19 worsens Zimbabwe’s poverty levels

By Nokuthaba Dhlamini

Almost half of Zimbabwe’s population suffered from extreme poverty last year due to the combined effects of increases in prices of necessities, economic contraction caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, and poor harvests, a recent survey has shown.

According to the Rapid Poverty Income Consumption and Expenditure Survey (PICES), a growing number of Zimbabweans were facing starvation.

PICES was a nationwide study conducted by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZimStat) in partnership with the World Bank and Unicef.

A sample of 1,800 households was drawn from the 2019 mini PICES for the new survey.

Mukami  Kariuki, World Bank country manager, said the Covid-19 pandemic’s socio-economic effects continued to cause suffering in Zimbabwe’s communities. 

“The Rapid-PICES exercise captures policy-relevant information that can be used to design strategies to assist communities and mitigate the impact of the pandemic,” Kariuki said.

“From this round, the findings reveal that while employment has increased from 51% in July 2020 to 57% in early 2021, the recovery has only been partial as employment levels have not reached the pre-pandemic level thereby contributing to increasing poverty in the country.”

The PICES, which started in  June 2020 will be completed in November this year 2021. 

The second round of the PICES was conducted from August to September 2020, while the third round was conducted from mid-December to mid-March 2021.

Tajudeen Oyewale, Unicef representative in Zimbabwe, said children continued to bear the brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“As results of this round of the survey show, only 40 percent of children were engaged in some form of remote learning, while access to essential health interventions have reduced,” Oyewale said.

“Social protection coverage has also been impacted, and I call upon all stakeholders to come together to support the country’s protection programmes.”

The survey also showed that Zimbabweans were finding it increasingly difficult to access services such as health and education following the outbreak of Covid-19.

“Of the households that needed medical treatment, a slightly lower fraction was able to access treatment (84 percent) in the third-round survey compared to 86 percent in the second round,” reads part of the findings.

“Lack of money was the primary reason for not being able to access medical treatment. 

“In the third-round survey, 91 percent of school-age children were attending school. 

“However, the Covid-19 pandemic continued to play a negative role in keeping children out of school.” 

It added that “63 percent of the population said it would definitely or likely get the vaccine if it was available free of charge; food insecurity level remained high, with 61 percent of the total population and 71 percent of the rural population in severe or moderate food insecurity; and 61 percent of agricultural households in the third-round survey participated in “Pfumvudza”, a government led agricultural programme for small scale farmers.”

The PICES provides critical data that is used by the government in informing national policy for social welfare programmes, poverty mapping, and studying income disparities among socio-economic groups.

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