HARARE – Zimbabwe is to launch a US$3,2 billion international appeal to avert a looming humanitarian catastrophe precipitated by the deadly El-Nino weather conditions, according to a 35-page draft appeal that President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government is working on.

The El-Nino phenomenon has been blamed for low rainfall patterns experienced across southern Africa.

The draft appeal says 7,5 million of the country’s estimated 16 million population could face starvation should the drought extend into the 2019/2020 agricultural season.

About 4,5 million of these are living in rural areas, where crops have failed and rain-fed agriculture has once again proved disastrous.

The draft appeal, exclusively obtained by ENN on Monday, flies in the face of Mnangagwa, who has assured the nation that the country has enough stocks to last 18 months.

Already in the grip of crises spanning from high prices and shortages of medicine and fuel, Zimbabwe lies on the path of the El-Nino weather phenomenon, which has inflicted pain and suffering in a society already grappling a sea of challenges.

Unforgiving temperatures are tearing fields and pastures apart, and villagers have been struggling to access water.

Mnangagwa has declared the 2018/2019 rainfall season a disaster.

But according to the draft appeal called “2019-2020 Domestic and International Appeal for Assistance”, his government has been preparing an appeal roadmap that takes into account the possibility of drought during 2019/2020.

The paper chronicles the plight of a nation at crisis point.

Both rural and urban populations could plunge into far more deeper need for food, medicine, educational assistance and other vital requirements to pull through the crises.

“The Government of Zimbabwe requires a total of US$3,2 billion with effect from February 2019 to March 2020,” the draft appeal says.

“This is for providing humanitarian assistance in the short to medium term, also taking into account sustainable measures which will assist in the event that the drought prolongs to the 2019/20 agricultural season. About 7,5 million people in both the urban and rural areas will require urgent food assistance. This translates to US$1,452 billion. The food response aims to ensure that every Zimbabwean has access to food, hence free from hunger. Both rural and urban areas will be earmarked for food assistance. Priority actions include provision of monthly food assistance, monthly cash assistance and provision of a protective nutritional ration,” says the draft appeal.

Zimbabwe admits that it has failed to deal with a deadly economic crisis, estimated by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency to have relegated 76 percent of its rural people and 23 percent of urban households into extreme poverty respectively.

But one of the biggest threats confronting the country is a sudden build-up of inflationary pressures that has inspired sharp price hikes and sparked deadly resentment between government and millions of unemployed youths.

Year on year inflation rose to 56,90 percent in January, from 42,09 percent in December 2018, defying measures announced under the Transitional Stabilisation Programme in October.

In the absence of measures to stabilise prices, run away inflation could further decimate purchasing power and stimulate serious nutritional deficiencies.

Zimbabwe fears for the worst, including a potential decline in industrial and agricultural output.

“The sharp (price) increase was brought about by panic buying, shortages and policies that drove mainly food prices up,” the draft appeal says.

“This has even led to rising costs of production, weakening domestic demand because of decline in the income of the consumers, foreign exchange shortages. The prevailing El-Nino induced weather phenomena is likely to cause a decline in economic productivity due to low production compared to 2018. This response will mobilise the international community to respond to the acute shortage of medicines, diagnostics and consumables stemming from the economic crisis. Priority actions will include strengthening disease surveillance/ early warning, strengthening laboratory capacity, strengthening case management for diarrhoeal diseases and procurement of essential medicines and medical supplies,” the draft appeal says.

It says the main focus will be providing life-saving essential nutrition services and strengthen community-based management of acute malnutrition.

“While dietary diversity continues to deteriorate and hunger increases during this peak lean season exacerbated by the El-Nino induced drought…vulnerable children and women of child bearing age become increasingly prone to micronutrient deficiencies commonly known as the hidden hunger,” it says.

“Almost three out of four children are deficient in iron and one in five children under five years lack vitamin A. During the drought season when food intake and diversified diets become increasingly difficult to acquire, this situation is worsened and there is need to protect vulnerable populations from hidden hunger. This (El-Nino) phenomena will potentially wreak havoc on the country’s agriculture season. The forecasted conditions are usually associated with agricultural risks which include limited water availability, poor grazing and heat stress that could affect both crops and livestock,” it notes.

The 2018/2019 rainfall season started late.

Rainfall distribution has been poor in most parts of the country, while long dry spells have affected the southern and western parts of the country.

Precipitation amounts for the first half of the season have been below normal in most parts of the country.

According to weather forecasts, the remainder of the season wil experience normal to below normal rainfall.

“All cities, municipalities and urban settlements will have to endure prolonged water rationing schedules. In addition, the reduced water levels will drastically affect electricity generation at the country’s hydro-power points. It is estimated that humanitarian assistance be rendered from February 2019 to March 2020. Due to the inter linkages of the various sectors in the economy, the disaster is anticipated to affect a wide range of sectors including the manufacturing sector and energy sector. However, the most affected sectors are food and nutrition, agriculture, water and sanitation, education and health,” says the draft appeal.

Agriculture employs contributes about 10,5 percent to gross domestic product, and employs about

About 70 percent of the population. About 60 percent of raw materials come from the agricultural sector.