Importance of Natural Resources

How climate and corruption have combined to create Zimbabwe’s food crisis

AMNA NAWAZ: For over a month, the United Nations
has been sounding the alarm about the growing food crisis in Zimbabwe. It’s estimated that
60 percent of the population doesn’t have access to adequate food. We will talk with people with deep understanding
of the situation, but, first, we have this background report. In what used to be called Southern Africa’s
breadbasket, today, Zimbabweans are desperate for food. Facing a climate disaster and an
unprecedented economic meltdown, more than half of the population is food-insecure. The United Nations’ World Food Program is
sounding the alarm. BETTINA LUESCHER, World Food Program: We are
facing the worst hunger crisis in more than a decade. The situation is nothing short of
tragic. There is no other way of putting it. AMNA NAWAZ: Zimbabwe is enduring its worst
drought in decades. And for rural farmers, largely growing water-intensive maize, erratic
rain patterns have proven catastrophic. In Hwange National Park, herds of elephants
died of drought-related starvation earlier this year. But the crisis is largely manmade,
according to the WFP. BETTINA LUESCHER: The crisis is being exacerbated
by a dire shortage of foreign currency, runaway inflation, mounting unemployment, lack of
fuel, prolonged power outages, and large-scale living — livestock losses, and they inflict
the urban population just as well as rural villages. AMNA NAWAZ: The International Monetary Fund
says Zimbabwe’s inflation rate is the world’s highest, at 300 percent. Many blame the political
and economic turmoil on former President Robert Mugabe. The anti-colonial icon was at the forefront
of Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980. But he clung to power for nearly 30 years, presiding
over the decline of what was once one of the continent’s most prosperous countries. He
was ousted in 2017. Hope that Mugabe’s successor, President Emmerson
Mnangagwa, can reverse the decline is running thin. The government is now scrapping a plan
to remove grain subsidies next year, a move aimed at shielding Zimbabweans from the rising
food costs. For more on all of this, we turn to two men
who know Zimbabwe well. Gerry Bourke is the Southern Africa spokesman
for the United Nations World Food Program, the lead international agency working to alleviate
the food crisis in Zimbabwe. He was just there last week. And Harry Thomas Jr. had a 34-year
career as an American diplomat and served as the U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe from 2016
to 2018. And welcome to you both. Thank you for being
here. Gerry, I do want to begin with you. Sixty percent of the country’s 14 million
don’t have the food to meet their basic needs. You were just there. Tell me what you saw
and heard from families on the ground. GERRY BOURKE, World Food Program: Well, it’s
really a national catastrophe, a calamity. People simply do not have enough food. The
larders are dry. The harvest comes in once a year, in April. Stocks from that are largely
exhausted. They’re looking forward to the next harvest in April. The rainy season has
arrived. It’s arrived two months’ late. There are patches of green, but the lack of
rain is really causing problems. Seeds put into the ground have not germinated. Some
re-planting will have to be done. And, in the meantime, people are struggling to get
by in a major way, taking kids out of school, selling off precious belongings, selling off
cattle, for example, lots of people really hurting. AMNA NAWAZ: Gerry, give me a specific example,
if you can, of the kinds of things people are telling you. What, for an example, is
an average people eating and subsisting on from day to day? GERRY BOURKE: Well, they’re eating less. They’re
skipping meals, a little bit of maize meal. But prices have skyrocketed. A loaf of bread
is now 20 times what it was six months ago. Maize, the staple food, has increased multiple
times. So it’s a huge struggle just to get by. AMNA NAWAZ: Ambassador Thomas, you heard mention
Gerry mention the rainy season coming late. There has been a drought. There’s a broader
climate crisis in the region. This isn’t just due to drought, though, is it? HARRY THOMAS JR., Former U.S. Ambassador to
Zimbabwe: No. The people of Zimbabwe deserve better. This
is because of massive corruption, mismanagement for many years. The government and leaders
of Zimbabwe are only interested in power accumulation and wealth maintenance. It’s unfortunate. It’s manmade, despite the
drought, as Gerry said. We’re very pleased, however, that the United States has stepped
up, has already put about $170 million toward food security. The British and the European
Union have as well. But the people of Zimbabwe deserve better. AMNA NAWAZ: That mismanagement, that corruption
you mentioned, it’s sort of alarming for people to think about how a country can go from being
the continent’s breadbasket, as we said in the report, to this downward spiral, where
people are struggling for basic needs. How does that happen so quickly? HARRY THOMAS JR.: It happens when its leaders
take all of the money that they earn through selling minerals, as they should, gold, plutonium
— they are a very wealthy country — and put it in their pockets. And you have to think. They had over 1,300
dams. They’re no longer maintained. The wells are no longer maintained. People are digging
boreholes to get water. And that puts — makes — they keep digging deeper and deeper. And there’s there’s less water. And it’s exacerbated
by the drought and climate change. AMNA NAWAZ: Gerry, you mentioned some of those
hard choices that people on the ground are having to make. We’re focused on the food crisis, because
that’s often one of the most visible among the crises. But Zimbabweans are dealing with
so much more. Tell me about some of the ripple effects you’re worried about this crisis could
have. GERRY BOURKE: Well, we’re very focused on
scaling up ourselves. We’re going to double within the next few weeks the number of Zimbabweans
we are supporting, those in crisis and emergency levels of food insecurity. So we’re going from about two million people
now to over four million. And we will be doing that through the peak of the lean season,
which is essentially January to March,ahead of next harvest in April. So, a major scale-up, requiring all hands
to the pump, and a significant amount of money, if we are to fully effect that scale-up. AMNA NAWAZ: And, Gerry, I was reading, the
previous World Food Program work there has been largely cash assistance going into Zimbabwe. That’s no longer the case, though, is it?
Tell me what’s happening on the ground now. GERRY BOURKE: In fact, what with hyperinflation
and very limited availability of local currency, we are having to do a wholesale switch from
a cash assistance to in-kind food assistance. So we are — and because much of the rest
of Africa has also suffered from drought and flooding, we are having to source food for
Zimbabwe much further afield, in Latin America, in Asia, and in Europe, some in Africa, but
most of it from elsewhere. So it’s a massive old-fashioned logistical
operation, shipping food into Durban in South Africa, in Beira in Mozambique, and then trucking
the food into landlocked Zimbabwe. AMNA NAWAZ: Ambassador Thomas, you mentioned
all the U.S. money going into Zimbabwe. And you also mentioned the corruption was part
of the problem that got people there where they are today. Is there any concern that continuing corruption
can mean that people of Zimbabwe don’t get the help they need? HARRY THOMAS JR.: Yes, there is. That is our concern, our government’s concern.
And it should be, but we need to hold the government accountable. For example, they
are trying to — they have imported wheat from Tanzania. The worldwide price is about
$240 to $250 a ton. They charge $600. So they have inflated the price, so the wealthy
and the cronies can buy it and sell it at a price over the double the worldwide price.
They’re trying to import some from Mozambique, as Gerry said. But Mozambique wants to be
paid in hard currency. This is another African nation that is saying,
you pay me in hard currency. And the people suffering — and these are a brilliant people.
I don’t if you know they — I was there for three years. This time, they had six Rhodes
Scholar. They always have Rhodes Scholars every year. I’m sure they will have more. And to see people have to not to send their
kids to school, to have to walk to work, not to have the ability to get secondary education
is heartrending. AMNA NAWAZ: We have less than 30 seconds left,
and I have to ask you a big question. With all this aid, is there a hope that things
will get better for the people of Zimbabwe? HARRY THOMAS JR.: Well, I have confidence
in the U.S. government, our European colleagues, the U.N. agencies who are stepping up to the
plate to help the people of Zimbabwe. What we need to do is have the government
of Zimbabwe be transparent. They have grains in their storage. Tell us how much they have,
so we can help them. AMNA NAWAZ: Be transparent and be accountable. HARRY THOMAS JR.: Yes. AMNA NAWAZ: Ambassador Harry Thomas, and,
of course, Gerry Bourke from the World Food Program, thanks very much to both of you.

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