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The untold story of starvation, neglect in Muzarabani

Hundreds of families in Muzarabani in Mashonaland Central province face serious food shortages, which if not urgently addressed, could lead to starvation as some people are already surviving on one meal a day.
Muzarabani — one of the marginalised communities in Zimbabwe — is already in a food crisis, villagers said last week.

Moses Mugugunyeki recently in Muzarabani

“Most families hardly have any food to eat. Some are having just one meal a day while others have nothing to eat at all,” said Gombera village head Daniel Gombera.

Geotana Tarakino (left) with some members of her family

Geotana Tarakino (left) with some members of her family

The village head said the situation in the village was grim, especially for the vulnerable.

“We have many families who have nothing to eat. Families headed by the elderly, the sick or the disabled are in a desperate situation,” Gombera said.

“It is fortunate we no longer have child-headed families in the village, but quite a number of people are facing starvation.”

Gombera said lives would be lost if relief food was not delivered to the area immediately.

“Government should immediately bring food to this area otherwise people will die,” he said.

Seventy-four-year-old Geotana Tarakino said she was old and frail, which made it difficult to feed her family.

“I am now old and sick. I no longer have power to work in the fields and most of my children who are here are sick and cannot do any jobs to feed their children,” she said.

Tarakino’s family is among 944 others in Muzarabani who are benefitting from the Zimbabwe Red Cross Society (ZRCS) cash transfer programme, whereby the drought-stricken villagers receive money from the society through mobile money transfers.

The money is meant to buy basic food items.

“I am happy that I am one of the beneficiaries of the cash transfer programme which has been helping us. We use the money to buy food items, but the money does not last long given the size of our families,” she said.

An average family in this area comprises nine people and food runs out fast.

“A bucket of maize can feed the family for five days and lately the price of maize has gone up. I am staying with my two daughters, daughter-in-law and son, as well as their children,” another villager said. “There are nine of us.”

The price of a bucket of maize meal that used to cost $3 in September last year shot up to $7 in January this year before settling at the current $10.

Most families have lost their livestock to drought and opportunistic buyers who are taking advantage of the drought and are exchanging maize for livestock.

“Most people are giving away their livestock, especially cattle, in exchange for maize. Most of the dealers offer seven 50kg bags of maize for one beast,” Gombera said.

“Scores of livestock in the area died because of lack of pastures.

“Some desperate families have sold their livestock for a song while many more cattle failed to get buyers and eventually succumbed to drought.”

The area received its first meaningful rains two weeks ago, but villagers said the rains would not help the situation.

“The rains were erratic since the onset of the rainy season. On Monday it rained but that won’t change anything in the fields because the damage has already been done.

“Crops have wilted and rivers are still dry. This is one of the worst droughts ever and hunger is looming,” said a villager who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“Government has done nothing to address the situation. People are surviving on the benevolence of a few non-governmental organisations that have been assisting in the area.

Maungaunga ward councillor Oliver Ururu said he was very worried about the situation in the area.

“People are in dire need of food assistance. I think government must speed up food relief programmes because families have no food at all,” he said.

Ururu said the area last received food assistance from government through the department of social welfare in November.

“So far, it is Red Cross which is helping people with its food relief programme in the area.

“The department of social welfare last distributed their food hand-outs in November. Only six families per ward received the food hand-outs,” Ururu said.

He said many families had withdrawn their children from school because of hunger.

“We have cases where parents are failing to provide food for their families and there are many cases where families eat only once a day. They decide when to have the meal but usually it is in the afternoon, which food will serve as breakfast, lunch and supper.

“As a result, most children would rather not attend lessons and stay at home in order to be able to have the single meal with the rest of the family,” he added.

The councillor said there were no wild fruits to supplement the little meals.

“Our situation is worsened by the fact that we don’t even have wild fruits to supplement the little food that we have. We only have the masawu fruit in July,” he said.

Most crops in the area are now a complete write off and major rivers, the main sources of water, have since dried up.

Hoya River, one of the major water sources in the area, is dry and villagers said this signalled a severe drought.

“The few livestock left will die because there is no drinking water. Normally, Hoya River would by this time of the year be flooded,” he said.

“You would not have been able to cross to this part of Muzarabani if it had rained normally.”

Muzarabani is a low-lying area in the Zambezi Basin which makes it flood-prone. Here resides one of the most marginalised communities in the country.

Zimbabwe is experiencing its worst drought since the 1991-1992 one that killed more than one million cattle.

President Robert Mugabe has since declared the drought a national disaster and the government is appealing for at least $1,5 billion to feed vulnerable families until March next year.

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