Roselyne Sachiti Features Editor
Zimbabwe experienced torrential rainfalls caused by Cyclone Idai between March 15 and 17, 2019, altering lives of thousands in affected communities.
The cyclone caused high winds and heavy rains in Chimanimani, Chipinge, Buhera, Nyanga, Makoni, Mutare Rural, Bikita, Masvingo and Gutu districts, causing riverine and flash flooding; subsequent deaths, and destruction of livelihoods and property.
To date, Chimanimani District is the most affected.
An estimated 50 000 households, translating to about 250 000 people, including 120 000 children, have been affected by the floods and landslides after local rivers and their tributaries burst their banks.
Cyclone Idai did not just leave people homeless, it also took with it their granaries and food stocks. Fields and gardens were not spared by the raging waters. The trail of destruction was horrendous.
Young children, pregnant mothers, the elderly and disabled were, typically, the most hapless in the circumstances.
Unicef Zimbabwe has put the figure at an estimated 60 000 children in need of immediate protection services.
About 100 000 children are in need of welfare and civil registration services in nine flood-affected districts.
In terms of nutrition, 3 905 children aged between six and 59-months with severe acute malnutrition were admitted to community-based treatment programmes, showing the negative impact the cyclone has had on child nourishment and food security.
A compromised nutrition status, especially during the first two years of life, causes irreversible damage and has been associated with early onset of metabolic syndromes (e.g. obesity, diabetes and hypertension).
During the first two years of life, the child’s body is still undergoing cellular programming, i.e., the body is still learning and teaching itself how to process and utilise available resources (nutrients).
Deficiencies during this early stage result in some undesirable metabolic characteristics that lead to early onset of the prior mentioned metabolic conditions.
The cyclone has resulted in communities experiencing shortages in food and a negative slide in nutrition, more so among children and pregnant women.
The impact of Cyclone Idai on food security, well-being and nutrition of communities can, therefore, not be overlooked.
Food security is an integral part of development.
At the inaugural World Food Summit in 1996, reference was made to the effect that food security exists when all people at all times have physical and economic access to safe and nutritious food, which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.
Food security in expansion means a state of assuredness in terms of basic food supply for ordinary citizens. World Health Organisation (WHO) defines food security as “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life”.
Ideally, the supply should be at optimum levels and even provide room for surplus.
In layman terms, if a standard family of five has 20 bags of maize, and of these, 10 are enough for the maize supply for a year until the next harvest, then they are food secure. They can even sell the surplus.
However, in other aspects, food security is not isolated to seasonal, but should be spread over a significant period like a decade.
Destruction by Cyclone Idai means people now have nothing from their surplus and have to depend on food aid through humanitarian assistance.
According to the WHO, food security is built on three pillars, which include consistent and adequate supply of food, accessibility to resources and means of production to secure nutritious food diet, and appropriate food use based on correct knowledge.
Nutrition is an essential element in Africa, given that the majority of the continent are youths, children and the elderly according to World Food Programme (WFP) 2017 Africa Report.
As such, the concept of food nutrition is a by-product of food security: where food is adequate and secure, nutrition can be achieved. But in Africa, nutrition is no straitjacket because of the ravaging effects of climate change on the continent’s agriculture sector.
In the case of Zimbabwe, Cyclone Idai has been a major drawback in the affected communities.
There is a clear nexus between food security, climate change and nutrition.
Natural disasters like Cyclone Idai affect food security as the majority of farmers in Chimanimani are communal-based and practise subsistence farming for household food security. Earnings are seasonal and so is farming, meaning that the recent sudden turn of events found farmers ill-prepared, leading to a dearth in food security.
An Africa wide study conducted by an international development agency Mercy Corps in 2008 reveals there are many food-insecure communities, whose vulnerability is high and climate change compounds difficulties in eradicating hunger and poverty.
The current disaster in Chimanimani means that food security is at its weakest and additionally where food security is weak and not guaranteed, nutrition levels tend to be low.
Natural disasters like Cyclone Idai upset food security due to limited productivity as people spend their time relocating and rebuilding broken lives.
The challenge brought about by Cyclone Idai can be explained from a naturalistic view of nature and other forces humanity is not in control of, influencing outcomes in agricultural produce.
A study titled “The Effects of Climate Change and Variability on Food Security in Zimbabwe: A Socio-Economic and Political Analysis” by Charity Manyeruke, Shakespear Hamauswa and Lawrence Mhandara, confirms that Zimbabwe is struggling in terms of food security due to floods and droughts.
The majority of Zimbabweans rely on food crop production as the base of their food security, and when a crop failure as a result of a cyclone like Idai materialises, then the country heads for disaster.
The onus is on Government and development partners to ensure the three pillars of food security are achieved so that everyone affected remains food secure.
A lot has been taking place on the ground to ensure affected communities remain food secure.
Since disaster struck, partners like Unicef provided technical support to the Ministry of Health and Child Care in the case management and surveillance domain.
An initial 30 boxes of Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) from Unicef procured from the Health Development Fund (HDF) has been dispatched to the health facilities covering the affected communities. These supplies will cover the treatment needs of the 73 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition in Chimanimani and Chipinge districts for one month.
An additional 300 cartons of ready-to-eat food from Government have been prepositioned in Mutare, and will be airlifted next week to all health facilities in affected districts to cater for the additional needs and to start treating all children with moderate acute malnutrition.
A total of 13 districts and ward nutrition coordinators supported by Unicef, who were working in Chimanimani prior to the flooding, have been deployed to the emergency centre that has been set up to offer nutrition-related care, and to monitor food and breast milk substitute donations.
Unicef said it is also planning to equip and support the deployment of all the village health workers, the 13 ward nutrition coordinators and district nutritionist working in the affected area to provide integrated nutrition, health and sanitation services, including screening and referral for acute malnutrition.
The nutrition cluster is coordinating with the WFP and the food assistance cluster to distribute blended food ration, provide micro-nutrient supplementation, support malnutrition screening and provide nutritional counselling in the upcoming food assistance programme targeting children under five and pregnant and lactating women. Corn soya blend (Tsabana) together with other food commodities will be distributed to children under five and pregnant and lactating women in Chimanimani and Chipinge among other food commodities.
Several companies, organisations and ordinary Zimbabweans have also been offering humanitarian assistance.
For example, on Tuesday NetOne pledged 22 tonnes of assorted dry foods and essentials that included soya chunks, mealie meal, skin lotions, flour, sugar, rice, green bar washing soap, cooking oil and salt.