mobile assistance
During the hungry season, the period of low crop production from October to March, over 2 million people in Zimbabwe need food assistance. But this year, the U.N. World Food Programme and USAID took a new approach to the seasonal food relief.

The aid organizations utilized mobile assistance on top of direct food aid to help individuals maintain food security. WFP and USAID offered cash transfers in villages where the food supply was high enough to meet consumer needs.

This was a pilot run of the country’s first mobile money assistance program.

Drought and poor harvests in certain regions in the nation critically threaten food security. With low production, food becomes more and more expensive and many to go hungry. Many in Zimbabwe need assistance during these tough times to make it until the more fruitful harvesting season.

The way the program worked was that about a week prior to food distribution, recipients of the mobile cash received a text message that said the $4 for each person in their family was now available in their e-wallet. The individuals could then go directly to the closest EcoNet agent to receive the hard cash.

To make the money accessible, the international organizations worked with EcoNet, the biggest cell phone provider in Zimbabwe, and its partner Steward Bank. With cell phone coverage in over 92 percent of the country, providing direct cash to help families from going hungry proved efficient and reliable.

With the food supply a critical factor in Zimbabwe’s economic state, a new program could only be implemented in regions where food production was high. If the mobile money was to be used in areas where food was scarce, the cash supply would be greater than the food stock.

Instead, the agencies maintained their normal food distribution programs for these regions.

Many receipts greatly appreciated the advantages that came with this new system. Mobile money allowed people in Zimbabwe to directly manage their own funds as needed and gave them the control over what their families consumed, instead of simply taking whatever food was being handed out during distributions.

The combination of mobile money and food assistance also helped to better stimulate local economies. The program grew businesses because it increased cash flow in both local markets and EcoNet businesses. With more Zimbabweans spending money and buying products, the regions hopefully will be able to become more self-sufficient and less reliant on direct food assistance.

From the experience and lessons learned from the first trial run, USAID, WFP and EcoNet plan to use and expand the approach for the next hungry season. Improvements include better verification of recipients and their associated phone numbers and more readily available cash for EcoNet agents.

Though still in its testing stages, the mobile cash program offers a new way to manage aid in Zimbabwe and provides a model to be used in other countries. With the program’s ability to make fewer people reliant on direct food handouts, the goal of the WFP and USAID is to assist Zimbabweans in maintaining food security.

Kathleen Egan

Sources: USAID, WFP, UN
Photo: MercyCorps

gold-mining

Artisanal gold-mining is nothing new to Zimbabwe; in fact, it’s a practice that is centuries old. What is especially interesting about the practice today, though, is how innovative Zimbabweans are using mining as a means of supporting their families in difficult economic times.

The correlation between economic strain and accelerated entry into the mining sector is strong. Zimbabwe has undergone a decade and a half of economic turmoil that began in 2000 with the collapse of its agricultural economy when the government forced out large farms only to replace them with much smaller ones run by inexperienced staff.

As a result, swaths of the population were forced to seek alternative employment, such as small-scale mining. By 2018, it is estimated that so many Zimbabweans will have adopted artisanal gold-mining that Zimbabwe’s gold output will double.

As an industry, gold-mining has the power to support thousands of hard-working Zimbabweans. According to the South African Institute of International Affairs, which in May 2014 published a comprehensive policy briefing on the topic, “artisanal gold-mining has emerged as one of the few means of poverty alleviation for poverty-stricken people in mineral-rich communities.”

Despite this, however, the government of Zimbabwe has yet to support the industry – in fact, it has criminalized small-scale mining altogether.

Government opposition to mining is a result of concerns that mining leads to environmental degradation and political instability. To some extent, these concerns are legitimate – mining relies not only on the use of dangerous chemicals but can also lead to water pollution and landscape erosion, as well as result in community tensions when workers of differing ethnicities and ideologies flood into mining towns.

Traditionally, Zimbabwe has enforced the criminalization of artisanal mining, arresting those who are caught engaging in the practice. However, because artisanal miners move between gold mines very quickly, law enforcement alone has not managed to end non-commercial mining in Zimbabwe.

The government of Zimbabwe would be smart to regulate rather than criminalize artisanal mining, as it benefits the country as a whole. Increased gold output over the past several years has earned Zimbabwe a reputation for being mineral-rich, and in turn, has led to increased international investment.

Mining gives individuals who would otherwise face unemployment an income, allowing them to participate in local economies, perhaps put down roots and in some cases, even undertake their own entrepreneurial ventures.

Lacking the violence with which it is often associated, supporting mining would be a no-brainer for Zimbabwe. Regulation (including environmental regulation) as a means of “formalizing” the mining industry could be incredibly effective in reducing its social costs and in turn, make the industry even more productive. Zimbabweans have found a way to ward off poverty – their government should listen.

— Elise L. Riley

Sources: Eldris, Info Please
Photo: The Zimbabwe Mail

According to sociologist Johan Galtung, structural violence occurs when there is a difference between actual reality versus potential reality. If the actual reality is unavoidable, then no violence is present. If the actual state of affairs is avoidable, then violence is present. Today, vaccines exist to prevent diseases such as measles, diphtheria, polio and tuberculosis, yet 2 million people from all over the world die annually from these conditions.

These deaths are not the result of a vaccine shortage, but rather are due to the inability to properly store the vaccines. In order to effectively prevent disease, vaccines need to be stored at very specific temperatures, controlled through refrigeration, from the time they are manufactured to the time of injection. This is typically described as the cold chain, and is difficult to maintain when traveling to more remote regions.

In an attempt to eradicate the structural violence, and in response to an outraged Sean Penn following the death of Oriel, a 15-year-old Haitian boy, by diphtheria, Harvey Rubin, an infectious disease doctor at the University of Pennsylvania, sought to address the problem. Rubin realized how prevalent cell phone towers were around the world and because in developing nations there are often blackouts, telephone companies often provide their own sources of power. After consulting engineer and mathematician Ali Jadbabaie, the two discovered that the power generated from these cell phone towers would be enough to power a refrigerator that could store vaccines. Moreover, the high frequency with which cell towers are distributed provides a chance to prevent the cold chain from breaking. Through delegating responsibilities to a larger team, spearheaded by undergraduate student Alice Conant, their efforts resulted in creating the nonprofit organization Energize the Chain.

Energize the Chain aims to form secure relationships with cell phone companies in order to increase the correlation between the number of cell towers in a given region and the successful preservation of the cold chain. They launched one of their first major projects in Zimbabwe in 2011. By pairing with cell phone company Econet Wireless, they were able to boost the number of viable vaccines that were distributed to 10 villages in Zimbabwe. Additionally, after partnering with the National Healthcare Trust of Zimbabwe, Energize the Chain was able to issue refrigerators that could stay cold for up to 10 days without power in order to maintain the precise temperature of the vaccines. There are currently 110 working sites in Zimbabwe and by December of this year Energize the Chain expects to install 100 more working sites.

By supplying these refrigerators to more rural regions of Zimbabwe, the partnership between Energize the Chain, Econet Wireless and the National Healthcare Trust of Zimbabwe provides greater accessibility to working vaccines. Moreover, the success in Zimbabwe provides the promise for expanding the program to other regions where high mortality rates are caused by an inability to receive necessary, lifesaving vaccinations.

– Jordyn Horowitz

Sources: Philly, Energize The Chain, Econet Wireless, JPR
Photo: All Africa

child labor facts
The act of using children for free or cheap labor has been around for centuries, and while it is not often brought up in conversation, this dirty little secret lives on in numerous countries, including the U.S.

Here are eight Child Labor facts from all over the world:

1.  Child labor is not just something that happens overseas
China, Asia and Africa are not the only nations that use children for cheap labor. Tobacco fields in the U.S. use young children to pick the plants. These children are exposed to dangerous pesticides and nicotine on a regular basis and sometimes get so sick they can hardly stand.

2. Child labor in tobacco fields is legal in the U.S.
The U.S. allows children as young as 11 to legally work in tobacco fields where they spray harmful chemicals so close to them they can hardly breathe. To put this in perspective: a child working in tobacco fields is illegal in countries like Russia and Kazakhstan, but is legal in the United States.

3.  Pakistan participates in selling children as slaves
Children in Pakistan can be sold by their parents or, more often, are abducted and sold into slavery to companies for profit. Companies that have utilized this backwards practice include Nike and the Punjub province, which is the largest seller of stitched rugs, musical instruments and sports equipment.

4.   Afghanistan gives away young girls to pay off debts
Another fact about child labor comes from Afghanistan where children make up roughly half of the population. Children often work in the textile industry, the poppy fields, cement and food processing. Parents may also sell their underage daughters into slavery in order to pay off a debt.

5.  Zimbabwe’s Learn as You Earn Program
The Learn as You Earn Program in Zimbabwe may not sound too bad at first glance, but it is another ploy to bring in children for cheap labor. The program brings children into the forestry and agricultural sectors so they can “learn” about those markets. Children often choose this in place of a formal education.

6.  Child Soldiers
Children who are displaced in war-torn countries like Afghanistan or Sudan are often put to work as child soldiers. These children are given guns and minor training and are told to defend their country. Some children may even be used as suicide bombers.

7.  Underage girls and sexual slavery
Young girls from all over the world who are either displaced by war, abducted while visiting foreign countries or even sold by their parents for money often find themselves in forced sexual slavery.  This problem is growing in Sudan, Somalia, Thailand, Japan, India and the United States.

8.  North Korea outlaws underage labor, continues to hire children
The government of North Korea officially outlawed child labor, but children still make up a large percentage of the people who work in factories. They also have labor camps where they send children to work in order to be re-educated for any type of political offenses.

These facts about child labor around the world can seem gruesome and a maybe a little far-fetched, but the point is that there are children who live these nightmares every single day.

– Cara Morgan

Sources: Business Insider, CNN, The Nation
Photo: Flickr

Education in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe gained independence from Britain in 1980 and immediately began an educational transformation that resulted in unprecedented coverage for the nation’s young minds.

A residual disenfranchisement of black students remained after nearly a century of colonial rule defined by “white supremacy, racial segregation, institutionalized violence and oppression” of the African majority. A redistribution of social inequality (as manifested in a corrupt education system) was of paramount importance in the first decade of independence.

System at a Glance

Exposure to education in Zimbabwe begins at age 6 in grade one of primary school. By grade three, reading and writing in English accompanies coursework in the mother tongue. Primary education continues through grade seven, when completion is marked with examinations in mathematics, English, science and social studies.

Secondary education is comprised of four “forms,” numbered I through IV. Forms I and II, equivalent to grades eight and nine, develop more involved skills in mathematics, English, history and other practical subjects. Marks earned in Forms I and II determine placement for Forms III and IV (grades 10 and 11,) advanced study years that culminate in subject-specific tests, gatekeepers for university acceptance.

Post-secondary education may be completed at one of Zimbabwe’s seven public universities or four religiously-affiliate universities. Alternatively, the pursuit of a university degree abroad is a viable option for some.

The 1980s: Dramatic Transformation

The face of education in Zimbabwe changed dramatically between 1980 and 1990. Primary schools and secondary schools sprouted up across the nation, increasing in numbers by 42.5 percent and an unfathomable 662 percent, respectively, during that time. On an aggregate level, student enrollment rose by over 200 percent.
Naturally, the demand for teachers rose with the increasing numbers of young minds. By 1990, 15 teaching colleges (10 for primary school teachers and five for secondary school teachers) were established. The Zimbabwe Integrated Teacher Education Course employed innovative approaches to teacher training, which in turn resulted in an overall improvement in the quality of education in Zimbabwe.

Residual Effects of Radical Change

Strides made prior to 1995 established Zimbabwe as a model for participation in public education. To this day, primary school participation hovers around 88% for both males and females. Retention is relatively stable as well; just over 82 percent of students complete their primary school education (this figure drops dramatically as the secondary education arrives; only 48 percent of males and females participate.)

Zimbabwe’s literacy rate, approximately 90.9 percent for youth and 83.6 percent for adults, is highest in sub-Saharan Africa. The nation also sends the fifth-largest number of students to the United States for continued study.

Areas Needing Improvement

Unfortunately, the apartheid era’s widespread inequality resulted in disparities in education quality. “Group A” schools (formerly white) have access to greater resources and better teachers than their “Group B” counterparts, which are typically government-sponsored. Lack of funding, poorer outcomes and lower pay result in perpetual staff shortages and turnover in B-level schools.

Education access in rural and urban areas is similarly unequal. For the approximately 60 percent of Zimbabweans in rural areas, government-funded schools are the only alternative. Higher-fee private schools are out of reach for agricultural families whose livelihoods allow no room for educational spending.

A post-colonial Zimbabwe embraced education as a human right, a premise that is worthy of emulation by developing nations. That said, education in Zimbabwe has room for growth in terms of quality and equity.

– Casey Ernstes

Sources: OSSREA, U.S. Embassy, UNESCO, UNICEF, World Education Forum
Photo: Flickr

zimbabwe_hunger
Zimbabwe is a low-income country with approximately 72% of the population living below the poverty line. As of 2012, Zimbabwe had a population total of 13.7 million.

Currently, Zimbabwe has been experiencing its worst food crisis in years, leaving 2.2 million people facing hunger in Zimbabwe and in need of food aid. According to Business Day, one of the largest factors in this current food crisis is the amount of farmers who are abandoning production of staple foods like maize, for products with a larger monetary gain, such as tobacco.

Many sources are adamant that Zimbabwe is facing a food crisis, but there are also those who believe that the number of people reportedly going hungry is “exaggerated.” For example Paddington Zhanda, Zimbabwe’s deputy agricultural minister, claims, “There is no crisis. If there [were] a crisis, we would have appealed for help as we have in the past. We are in for one of the best harvests we have had in years.”

Though the harvest has been decent thus far, the UN is asking for donations in order to reach a total of $60 million to help stave off or entirely prevent the increasing hunger in Zimbabwe.

Why?

One anonymous source, a senior aid worker, explains that although the rainfall boosted the harvest this year, the many previous years of drought have led the Zimbabwe economy to fall apart, and left the price of farming equipment and food inflated. “[The people of Zimbabwe] are more vulnerable than ever before. With possible good harvests this year, this situation will be a lot better next year, but not now.”

Patrick Chinamasa, Zimbabwe’s Finance Minister, claims that Zimbabwe’s economy will flourish in 2014, leading the rate of growth to increase 3% from the originally predicted 3.4% to 6.4%. His predictions are relying primarily on agriculture and production of food to pull the 2.2 million out of hunger in Zimbabwe, but Chinamasa also mentioned that the government intends to raise diamond sales 5% to help boost the economy and put the Zimbabwe back on solid ground.

– Rebecca Felcon

Sources: World Bank, Business Day Live
Photo: Bright Hope World

zimbabwe_food_hunger
Drought in Zimbabwe is reaching epic proportions as nearly one million people are at risk of food insecurity. According to the 2013 Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVAC,) food insecurity levels will affect roughly 2.2 million Zimbabweans at the peak of hunger season between January and March in the upcoming year. Zimbabwe already suffers from high poverty rates as approximately 72 percent of citizens currently below the poverty line and nearly 14.7 percent of the population is HIV prevalent.

Zimbabwe relies heavily on rain-fed agriculture, which has since plummeted since last season’s drought.  As the need for food increases, maize, a primary source of food in Zimbabwe, continues to rise in price making it more difficult on a population who already lives on less than a $1 a day. Making matters worse, the World Food Programme (WFP) recently announced that their initial plan of providing support for 1.8 million people will be drastically reduced.

“We’d been hoping to have scaled up our seasonal relief operations to reach 1.8 million people in the coming months with distributions of food aid, in some areas, cash transfers. Despite generous contributions from donors such as (United States,) (United Kingdom,) Japan, Australia, ECHO and the central Emergency Relief Fund (UN CERF), it’s now looking like all this will not be possible because of a shortage of funds. In fact, we’ve had to cut rations for one million of our beneficiaries in recent months and there are likely to be deeper cuts as from next month,” said WFP in a statement to the media.

Of the $86 million funding dispersed by the previous listed countries, only half of it has been implemented into relief intervention. “Rising food prices are making matters worse — in some areas, they are as much as double what they were last year,” says WFP communications manager Tomson Phiri.

These rising prices in the market are heavily affecting food security and although WFP is short on funding, they are hoping to raise another $60 million over the next 6 months in an effort to implement relief and recovery operations.

Jeffrey Scott Haley
Feature Writer

Sources: World Food Programme, World Food Programme, Zimeye
Photo: The Telegraph

zimbabwe_food_crisis_corn_shortage`
Zimbabwe announced plans last Friday to import 150,000 tons of corn from South Africa in attempt to stave off the threat of mass starvation as poor crop yields and bad credit plunge the country into its worst food crisis in years.

A UN report found that at least 2.2 million Zimbabweans will require food assistance before the next harvest season to survive. Many people in rural areas are subsisting only on what wild fruit they can find.

Zimbabwe was once known as southern Africa’s breadbasket, but is now suffering low yields of its staple crop due to last year’s droughts, the late arrival and poor distribution of rainfall and an infestation of army worms. Economic collapses and poor planning by the government exacerbated the bad growing season, and Zimbabwe was able to produce only 800,000 of the 2.2 million tons of corn necessary to feed its population.

Scarcity has driven the price of corn up 20 percent since 2012, according to the to US-based Famine Early Warning System (FEWSNET).

“Communities, especially rural ones, are facing a twin evil: food is scarce, and that tends to push prices up,” Innocent Makwiramiti, an economist and former executive officer of the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce, told reporters.

“The government has no money to import enough grain so that people can buy it at subsidized levels,” Makwiramiti said. “The hungry are therefore forced to buy from private sellers, who charge high prices.”

Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation and resulting economic freefall, which many critics blame on President Robert Mugabe and his chaotic ascension to power, threaten the country’s ability to borrow to feed its citizens.

In the past, Zimbabwe has combated inflated food prices by importing grains on credit from neighboring countries like Zambia, many of whom are no longer willing to gamble that they will be paid back. In October, Zambia reversed its decision to give Zimbabwe 150,000 tons of corn on credit, instead requesting cash up front.

Zimbabwe managed to obtain only 14,000 tons.

Many Zimbabweans are angered by the response from President Mugabe and his ZANU PF party, who have acknowledged the food crisis and promised that “no Zimbabwean will die of hunger” but have yet to reveal any concrete plans to address food scarcity or the underlying economic problems ravaging the country.

In addition to a poor growing year and an economy in free fall, Zimbabwe’s food crisis has roots in Mugabe’s violent redistribution of land in 2000. Many white landowners fled the country as government forces seized their farms.

Instead of turning land over to Zimbabwe’s poor black farmers, as he had promised, Mugabe gifted properties to leaders of his ruling party, whom left much of it unattended and improperly cared for. Ironically, the farming surplus that Zambia has experienced, allowing them to sell corn to Zimbabwe, can be attributed at least in part to white farmers chased out of the country.

It will take time for Zimbabwe’s economy to rebound, but its people are dying now. The 150,000 tons of corn recently granted by South Africa will help some, but without money or credit, Zimbabwe and its citizens will be largely dependent on food aid from international organizations. Now is the time to get involved.

Sarah Morrison

Sources: All Africa, New Zimbabwe, New Zimbabwe, New York Times, World Food Programme
Photo: The Guardian

beatrice_mtetwa_release
Zimbabwe human rights lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, has been acquitted on charges of obstructing justice and being unruly to police.

The recipient of several international awards, Mtetwa grew up in Swaziland, the eldest daughter of 50 children. After earning her law degree, she moved to Zimbabwe after it gained its independence in the 1980’s and soon set up her own firm defending victims of the repressive government. She has spent the past three decades defending freedom of speech under President Robert Mugabe, of whom she is a strong critic.

‘Beatrice Mtetwa & the Rule of Law’ is a recent documentary project about Mtetwa’s career-long struggle. Hailed as Africa’s top human rights lawyer, her cause is to uphold the rule of law as the foundation for democracy and economic growth. She names Mugabe a dictator, calling him out for creating self-serving, harmful laws which fly in the face of human rights.

Mugabe’s long presidency has been fraught with criticisms including his violent land redistribution policy, highly questionable elections, and free speech restrictions. Mtetwa’s clients include peace activists and journalists whom she defends on constitutional grounds. Foreign correspondent Andrew Meldrum, for example, was arrested and then deported from Zimbabwe after having been found innocent in the courts. His expulsion, according to Jonathon Moyo, a member of parliament, had to do with the country’s right to stop the media from being “hostile” towards Zimbabwean government. A law enacted by Mugabe, which made insulting the president a crime, was recently declared unconstitutional by Zimbabwe’s highest courts, but the country is still hostile toward free journalism in general. Currently in Zimbabwe, a person can be sentenced to 20 years in prison for publishing a false statement, creating an obviously unfriendly atmosphere for free speech.

It is this type of corruption which Mtetwa has devoted her career to stopping. According to many, it was her influence in this respect which led to her arrest.

Mtetwa was arrested in March of this year during a raid on the offices of foreign Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. The officers were searching for an official from Tsvangirai’s Movement for a Democratic Change. It was alleged that Mtetwa shouted at the officers, saying that their actions were unconstitutional, illegal, and unlawful. It was furthermore said that she insulted the officers by calling them “Mugabe’s dogs.” Her arrest was widely condemned and interpreted as an attempt to intimidate other Zimbabwean lawyers. Mtetwa herself termed it a “set-up.”

On November 25, the courts ruled that Mtetwa’s actions had not interfered with the officers doing their jobs, and she was therefore released. But the problems facing Zimbabwe’s government remain.

– Kathleen Walsh

Sources: BBC 1, 2, Rule of Law, Washington Post, The Guardian, African Spotlight

Scoop_on_Poop
The loo, can, John, privy, water closet or bathroom – no matter what it is called, the toilet is a universally valued sanitation need.  That said, this year marked the first official celebration of World Toilet Day. While the day has been informally recognized by sanitation advocacy groups for 13 years, the United Nations officially declared November 19 World Toilet Day this year.

“To have it inscribed as a U.N. official day,” says World Toilet Organization founder Jack Sim, “means we now have the … legitimacy to engage at country and local levels to generate awareness down to where it matters most. We’ve finally broken the taboo on sanitation.”

Lack of proper sanitation poses a threat to many developing nations around the world. In fact, more than 2.5 billion people lack proper sanitation, states Devex, and are at an increased risk for waterborne illnesses. Five years ago in Harare, Zimbabwe, more than 400,000 were killed and 100,000 sickened by cholera, states the Huffington Post.

The densely populated city still faces health and sanitation risks today.  A new report titled “Troubled Water: Burst Pipes, Contaminated Wells, and Open Defecation in Zimbabwe’s Capital” captures the dangerous living conditions of many of the nation’s citizens.  The lack of proper filtration, sanitation and clean water violate fundamental human rights, the report claims.

Zimbabwe has not always lacked proper sanitation systems, however.  Until the 1980s the country had a functioning sewage system, but governmental neglect and corruption has allowed the system to deteriorate and cause public hazards.

“The government’s inability to maintain the water system and its practice of disconnecting those unable to pay,” Human Rights Watch Southern Africa director Tiseke Kasambala says,” forces people to drink water from contaminated taps or from unprotected wells.” Sewage lines the streets of many communities where inhabitants also lack clean water for bathing and drinking.

The situation is not much better in Haiti and according to Devex, only one-third of the Caribbean nation has access to toilets. More than 680,00 people have contracted cholera, with nearly 8,400 dying from the disease in the last three years. Researchers, however, are using defecation as an opportunity to develop sustainable energy practices.

Professors from the University of Maryland and Biobolsa of Mexico have designed a technology that utilizes anaerobic digesters to break down organic matter and transform it into methane.  The methane biogas can then be used to generate electricity and heat homes.

The researchers and technicians have high hopes for the project. “We hope this project can be used to bring together these WASH [water, sanitation and hygiene] communities through the sharing of our rigorous evaluation data, survey results and workshop materials,” University of Maryland’s Stephanie Lansing said, “so the sanitation model implemented here in Haiti can be replicated throughout the development community.”

Though improper sanitation and hygiene practices threaten many developing nations, work is underway to flush these public health hazards down the drain and transform them into sustainable development opportunities.

– Mallory Thayer

Sources: Devex: Learning to love the loo, The Huffington Post, Devex: Haiti
Photo: New Times