BY FIDELITY MHLANGA
ABOUT 500 000 Zimbabweans have lost their jobs since the Covid-19 pandemic broke out last year igniting de-industrialisation, the World Bank (WB) said, as it revealed extensive food shortages and worsening poverty.
In its report titled, Zimbabwe Economic Update (ZEU): Overcoming Economic Challenges, Natural Disasters, and the Pandemic: Social and Economic Impacts, the global lender said Covid-19 has affected both rural and urban jobs by almost similar measure, with 7,9 million ending up in abject poverty.
This figure represented about 49% of Zimbabwe’s estimated 15 million people.
“In 2020, the pandemic and its impacts disrupted livelihoods, especially in urban areas and added 1,3 million Zimbabweans to the extreme poor,” the WB said.
“Estimates suggest the number of the extremely poor reached 7,9 million — almost 49% of the population.
“Nearly 500 000 Zimbabwean households have at least one member who lost her or his job, causing many households to fall into poverty and worsening the plight of the existing poor. Wage earners in urban areas were also disproportionally affected by the pandemic, as their pay was cut, or no pay was received at all. Rural households, who rely less on wage employment and depend on farm business were less impacted,” the WB added.
It said the most commonly stated reason for losing jobs in urban areas was the closure of companies due to hard lockdowns.
Others were laid off, but their companies continued operating as government almost grounded the economy from March to December in order to contain the pandemic.
The report said in rural areas, the most frequently cited reasons were business closures, followed by seasonal effects such as when the tobacco season is off peak.
The Bretton Woods institution noted that as food prices rose and disposable incomes shrank, the share of rural households that reported running out of food reached 37% by July 2020.
“More than 41% of the rural population reported that they sought maize meal, but were unable to buy it.
“These percentages are lower in urban areas, suggesting that the inability to purchase food particularly affected rural areas where poverty is higher,” the WB added.
“Food insecurity was also exacerbated by inadequate reach/ coverage of relevant social protection programmes—less than a quarter of the increased number of extreme poor households received food aid in June 2020 and this share dropped to 3% of rural households in September 2020,” the report noted.
“It will be important to carefully target humanitarian and social protection programmes to reach those most in need with adequate levels of benefits.
“In the medium-term, authorities seek to strengthen domestic capacity to monitor and manage social programmes, by re-establishing the national social protection steering committee; and improving the targeting and monitoring of social protection programmes, including through beneficiary feedback loops.
“These percentages are lower in urban areas, suggesting that the inability to purchase food particularly affects the rural population.
“Among households trying to buy key individual staples nationally, 1,4 million (36%) were unable to buy maize; 1,8 million were unable to buy cooking oil; and
2,6 million were unable to buy chicken,” the global lender added.