Zimbabwe is a landlocked country located in Southern Africa between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers bordered by South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Mozambique. The capital and largest city is Harare. A country of roughly 16 million people, Zimbabwe has three main languages: English, Shona and Ndebele. It is a country with many natural resources; and can produce a variety of agricultural products due to the favourable sub-tropical climate most of the year round. Some areas of the country suffer from the lack of rain during the rainy season and this can cause much suffering and hardship. The economy of Zimbabwe shrunk significantly after 2000, resulting in a desperate situation for the country – widespread poverty and a 95% unemployment rate. The economic situation of the country has not recovered since then. In 2018, 37.9% of the population in Zimbabwe lives in extreme poverty.
Poverty in Zimbabwe
Poverty in Zimbabwe seems like a fact of life. Once on its way to becoming a middle-income nation, Zimbabwe’s society and economy has experienced great deterioration since 1997. Approximately 72 percent of the country’s population now lives in chronic poverty, and 84 percent of Zimbabwe’s poor live in rural areas.
Political and economic crises in recent years have exacerbated poverty and brought with it a host of social problems. Between 1990 and 2003 the poverty rate rose from 25 % to 63%. Deterioration of infrastructure has isolated rural communities and led to a high poverty rate in these rural areas. This isolation has also contributed to a decrease in farm income and production as a result of inaccessibility to markets. As such, food shortages in the country are rising. HIV infection, though declining, remains at 18 percent, one of the highest rates of infection in the world.
When looking at the causes of poverty in Zimbabwe it is necessary to take into account the effects of the 2008 financial crisis. As a result of the crisis, Zimbabwe saw its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) decline by 17 percent. By comparison, the GDP growth rate for other African countries was five percent.
Although Zimbabwe made great progress to recover from the 2008 crisis, its GDP growth rate is declining since 2013. According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), this decline is the result of stalling investments and adverse climate conditions that hurt the agricultural sector. Nearly 60 percent of Zimbabwe’s workforce is employed in the agricultural sector.
The Poverty Income Consumption and Expenditure Survey (PICES) 2011/2012 says most of the poverty-stricken households are resettlement and communal areas. Poverty levels in Masvingo are at 63% while the Metropolitan Provinces have the lowest poverty levels with Harare at 35% and Bulawayo 34%. Of the 63% wallowing in poverty, 16% are in extreme poverty while 76% of the rural households are poor compared to 38,2% in urban areas. About 30% of rural people are extremely poor compared to 5,6% in urban areas.
As a result of the 2015-2016 drought that affected most of southern Africa, the rural poor have become more vulnerable to the loss of both their food security and their livelihoods. A 2016 study by the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVAC) shows that approximately 4.1 million Zimbabweans, nearly a quarter of the population, face food and nutrition insecurity due to the drought.
Before independence and the shift towards smallholder agriculture in the country, Zimbabwe relied upon two sectors of agriculture: large scale commercial cash crops and small-scale food production. But land reforms by the government have forced a transition to small scale agriculture across the board, which has led to much unemployment and a difficult changeover process. Capital investment is almost nonexistent in Zimbabwe because of sanctions and economic crises, further hindering economic growth.
To understand the causes of poverty in Zimbabwe, the poor performance of the country’s manufacturing industry must also be explored. Manufacturing surveys estimate that industrial capacity utilization decreased from 57 percent in 2011 to 36.3 percent in 2014. This is mainly because of an erratic power supply, a lack of capital, higher input costs, antiquated machinery and deficiencies in infrastructure.
One key to fighting poverty in Zimbabwe is stimulating agricultural growth through investment in basic infrastructure. By prioritizing climate-smart, efficient agricultural production and investment in infrastructure and industrial capacity building, the causes of poverty in Zimbabwe will be diminished.
(Borgen Report on Poverty in Zimbabwe)
Solutions to poverty
The good news is that there are solutions to poverty. The following are some of the solutions put forward by the United Nations:
a)The U.N. says that “unemployment and underemployment” lies at the core of poverty. For the poor, labor is often the only asset they can use to improve their well-being.”
b)The education of girls and women impacts the rest of the societies in which these girls and women live. Our founders understood this almost 150 years ago. Educating girls and women can reduce poverty in developing nations. As the U.N. Development Programme says, “when women have equal access to education, and go on to participate fully in business and economic decision-making, they are a key driving force against poverty.”
c)Creating transparency in government spending of money can help reduce corruption in governments. When governments are accountable to their citizens for their action, or inaction, in different areas of the federal budget, the citizens will be able to accurately assess how well their leaders are leading their country.
d)The President of the World Bank Jim Yong Kim, says that he believes “universal health insurance coverage in all countries can help achieve a goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030.”
e)The World Bank says that access to clean water and sanitation is “one of the most cost-effective development interventions, and is critical for reducing poverty.” The reasons for this are that women can use the time that they would have spent fetching water to work and produce more, agricultural production could increase, and the costs of services and goods could go down. Not only that, but because diseases caused by unsafe drinking water and poor sanitation cause “the most significant child health problems worldwide,” having access to clean water could significantly lower the healthcare burden for many of these many children.
f)Adequate nutrition is an incredibly important indicator of a person’s ability to get out of poverty, later in life. Those who are malnourished from the time of conception to 24 months, postpartum “have a higher risk of lifelong physical and mental disability.” Because of this, they are “often trapped in poverty,” and are not able to make the full contribution to the “social and economic development of their households and communities, as adults.”