Zimbabwe: Economic gloom deepens despair

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

JOHANNESBURG, 19 August (IRIN) - Four in five Zimbabweans went without food at least once last year, according to a new survey.

The results of the Afrobarometer survey, released on Wednesday, said more than half of all adult Zimbabweans (54 percent) thought current living conditions were "bad", and the present generation thought they were worse off than their parents (52 percent).

The Afrobarometer is an independent survey conducted by the Institute for Democracy in South Africa, the Centre for Democratic Development of Ghana and US-based Michigan State University. An estimated 1,200 Zimbabweans across the country were polled in May 2004 on how they felt about prevailing economic conditions and the performance of political leaders.

About 82 percent of respondents said they had been short of food at least once in the past year, a figure much higher than in any of the 15 other African countries covered by the survey.

The report also confirmed a recent finding by the International Monetary Fund: Zimbabwe had the fastest shrinking economy in the world, causing citizens to become "one-third poorer in the last five years".

Once the breadbasket of the region, Zimbabwe has now become the worst food-deficit country in Southern Africa.

In 2003 food aid was distributed to over 5.2 million people - more than half the population - and in April this year the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation forecast that the country would produce only half its food needs for 2004/5.

"Only a decade ago, Zimbabwe's healthcare system was among the best in Africa. Today, severe shortages of drugs and medical equipment are pushing hospitals and clinics close to ruin. Between 1999 and 2002, while infant mortality rates held steady in South Africa and declined in Malawi, they jumped by 15 percent in Zimbabwe," the survey said.

The "very rapid deterioration" in food security and medical care had "coincided with the period of land seizures, drought, and the manipulation of food relief supplies as an instrument of political control".

Inflation climbed to 620 percent in November 2003. Unemployment currently stood at just over 60 percent and 91 percent of respondents in 2004 said their families had been short of cash at some point during the previous year.

After four years of political upheaval Zimbabweans were losing faith in democracy, the survey found.

Whereas in 1999, many Zimbabweans firmly opposed the idea of one party rule (74 percent), by 2004 they were much less certain (58 percent).

There was also growing wariness of multiparty competiton as respondents said it "often or always ... leads to conflict".

According to Afrobarometer, two-thirds of adult Zimbabweans thought "problems in this country can only be solved if [opposition] Movement for Democratic Change and ZANU-PF sit down and talk with one another". They preferred reconciliation to either continued ZANU-PF resistance to talks (19 percent) or MDC's call for new elections (8 percent).

Just four percent of ordinary Zimbabweans mentioned land reform as a priority national problem, while 76 percent said land acquisitions should be done by legal means, with compensation for owners.

Full survey: http://www.sarpn.org.za/documents/d0000899/index.php


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