JOHANNESBURG, 22 March (IRIN) -
Zimbabwe's economic crisis has seen deepening vulnerability in urban areas
and an increase in the number of malnourished children attending clinics
in the two largest urban centres.
In its latest situation report the World Food Programme (WFP) noted that "there is an increased need for assistance for malnourished children under the age of five in the cities of Harare [the capital] and Bulawayo [the second city], as evidenced by an increased turnout at clinics".
WFP spokeswoman Makena Walker told IRIN on Monday that "the economic downturn in Zimbabwe has had a severe impact in urban areas".
"When household incomes fall, one of the strategies to cope is cutting down on meals and changing the kind of food a household will eat. [That results] generally in a less than standard diet, which is what is affecting these children under five," Walker said.
A recent urban vulnerability assessment showed the impact of the current food crisis, coupled with the country's sharp economic decline, on urban dwellers.
"Before [the assessment] we were estimating there were 1 million needy people in urban areas. The assessment quantified the number of people, stating that there were 2.5 million," Walker noted.
The increase in the number of malnourished children attending clinics in the two major cities "shows the great impact [the economic decline] has had in urban areas, as the most vulnerable people, when there is a crisis, are of course children and women".
WFP and its implementing partners are working with 40 clinics to prevent a deterioration in the condition of malnourished children between the ages of six months and six years. "Over 80,000 children received food aid under the programme during February," the aid agency said.
Walker added that the programme has been running for a year now. "It started as a pilot programme in Harare and then extended to Bulawayo and covers most of the clinics in the cities. WFP is working with the NGO, Help Germany, and the children are referred to this programme through the clinics once they are registered as 'growth faltering'," she explained.
WFP was also implementing school feeding programmes in primary schools in selected high-density suburbs.
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