MUDZI: A woman pours a trickle of water into a bucket after drawing water at a village well, which has very limited reserves of water remaining to meet household water needs, on July 2, 2024. — AFP
MUDZI: A woman pours a trickle of water into a bucket after drawing water at a village well, which has very limited reserves of water remaining to meet household water needs, on July 2, 2024. — AFP

Meals dry up as Zimbabwe's drought bites

KOTWA, Zimbabwe: A bed of sand and a patch of mud is all that remains of Kapotesa dam, which once provided the water vital for crops and livestock in this remote part of Zimbabwe. Nearby, farmer Georgina Kwengwere walks among corn stalks desiccated by the drought that is ravaging her country and leaving millions of people in need of food aid. "I did not harvest anything after all my effort and using all our savings to buy seeds," the 54-year-old told AFP, shaking her head despondently. "Not even a single cob."

The Kapotesa dam dried up in May, Kwengwere said. "Only God knows how we are going to survive until the next harvest next year," she said. When the rains are good, water from the dam in the northeastern Mudzi district allows Kwengwere and her husband to grow vegetables to feed themselves and their six children. There is even a surplus to sell for cash to buy livestock and pay school fees.

Now Kwengwere has to join other villagers on a five-kilometer daily walk to a business center in the small town of Kotwa to look for odd jobs to be able to buy food. On a good day she will make about three US dollars; on a bad day, she makes the long walk back home to her village of Mafuta empty-handed.

Like most villagers in the district of around 164,000 people, her family has cut back meals to just two a day. "Most of us have no food in our homes," said Takesure Chimbu, 58, also from Mafuta. "Without water, everything is down," he told AFP.

Cases of malnutrition have jumped by around 20 percent in Mudzi in the past three months, district medical officer Kudzai Madamombe said. "Food is quite expensive in the district especially due to the fact that we are drought-prone," he said, calling for government assistance.

Nutritional porridge

Faced with this spike in malnutrition, health experts in Mudzi have come up with a nutritional porridge called maworesa, which means "the very best" in the local Shona language. It is made from cheap, locally sourced ingredients such as eggs, sugar beans and baobab fruit that are contributed by the villagers.

The porridge was concocted to cover basic nutritional needs by including carbohydrates, protein, and fruits and vegetables, Madamombe said. "This has greatly helped in curbing malnutrition using as little money as possible while making sure that every child in every family gets at least four basic food groups at least once a week," he said.

Zimbabwe and neighboring Malawi and Zambia are among the countries in southern Africa most affected by malnutrition after a severe drought which experts say was worsened by the El Nino phenomenon. In May, President Emmerson Mnangagwa declared a state of disaster, saying Zimbabwe needed at least two billion dollars to respond to the drought.

At least 7.6 million people, almost half of the population, are in need of aid, the UN said in May. Children aged under five and pregnant and lactating women are most affected. "Harvests have not been what they should be," UNICEF Zimbabwe chief communications officer Yves Willemot told AFP. "Most people are living in a pretty dire situation with lack of access to water and food."

In early June, the UN launched a $429 million drought appeal for Zimbabwe. "Until now, except for internal resources and resources from the UN safe, we have not received any contributions yet," Willemot said. — AFP

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