Help for families only able to find bananas to eat

by Takaitei Bote

In the east of Zimbabwe 2000 people, around four hundred families, have received cash transfers from ActionAid to help them buy food during the country’s worst drought for 35 years.

The devastating effects of the El-Nino induced drought have left close to four million people in need of food aid in Zimbabwe. In Kwaramba village, in Manicaland province, communities have resorted to a diet consisting of only boiled bananas as they make efforts to cope with the drought that has resulted in food shortages in most parts of the country. Banana is not a staple food in Zimbabwe.

ActionAid is transferring the money to community members through Ecocash, a mobile phone money transfer system. The electronic money transfers are convenient for communities as they are given the choice to decide how, and on what, the money should be used. Electronic cash is sent via a code in a text message to the recipients’ mobile phones. They then take the code to a local money agent to redeem the cash.

Using calculations of $5 per family member to a maximum of five members per family, a total of 400 households comprising mostly vulnerable women have now received cash averaging $25 (depending on household size).

During a recent visit to some of the most affected communities in Makoni district, ActionAid Chief Executive, Adriano Campolina, witnessed and interacted with some of the community members who had received their money on the phones.

One of the people who received the money was Ellen Matereke, a 38 year old mother of six, who said:

"I will now be able to buy a 50kg bag of maize meal and cooking oil from the money I received."

Ellen also spoke of how she was grateful to receive the money but that it would still not be adequate to pay her children’s school fees. Before the drought, Ellen, like many other women, was able to meet all her children’s school needs with the money she earned from her own small business. However the drought has severely affected trade and left families like Ellen's with spiralling costs.

Most women in Chiendambuya have over the years survived on rearing poultry and small scale farming as ways of gaining income while subsistence farming provided food for the family. With the drought taking hold, people in this community are failing to obtain grain for their poultry and gardens are severely affected by lack of water as reservoirs and other water sources dry up.

As the UN Development Programme warns that half the population will be in need of emergency assistance by March 2017, ActionAid continues to work closely with communities in Zimbabwe. In addition to the cash transfers, ActionAid is repairing boreholes at key locations in Chiendambuya to address the lack of water, as well as working in several more locations across the country.