The current Covid-19 pandemic and the existing socio-economic problems, food insecurity and other factors faced by Zimbabwe have put the country’s children in a “even harder” position. Review & Mail’s Tichaona Zindoga engaged UNICEF ZIMBABWE to find out what the dynamics mean. Already, according to the world body, poverty has a child’s face in Zimbabwe. Of the 6.3 million boys and girls in the country, 4.8 million live in poverty, including 1.6 million in extreme poverty.
TZ: In what way has the Covid-19 pandemic affected children globally and in particular Zimbabwe regarding existing social and economic issues?
UNICEF ZIMBABWE: As the number of COVID-19 cases has soared, so have the needs for children and families around the world. Hundreds of millions of children are now forced to remain indoors and out of school. Parents and caregivers are working remotely whenever they can. Borders have been closed. Lives have been upended.
In Zimbabwe, we are already in the midst of the worst food insecurity crisis in over a decade, this coupled with the current economic challenges including hyperinflation, shortage of currency, fuel and prolonged power shortages. Widespread poverty will have a great impact on children who typically bear the brunt of any humanitarian crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic has made the situation for children even harder.
TZ: Has the pandemic brought in new dimensions that were previously under-highlighted or under-discussed?
UNICEF: The pandemic has further highlighted the issue of equity in access to basic social services for children, with a focus to vulnerable children in hard to reach areas around Zimbabwe. For example: Regarding, nutrition, Zimbabwe’s Multi Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) 2019, revealed about 1 in 4 children under 5 were stunted and at risk of impaired physical and cognitive growth. Food crises have a major impact on the quality, frequency and diversity of children’s diets and this is compounded by the inability for families across the country to provide adequate childcare during these increasingly challenging times.
In terms of child protection, children are more vulnerable to violence and abuse during these emergencies as is seen by increases in reported cases through UNICEF supported reporting mechanisms.
Regarding, WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) – the need to regularly wash your hands and good hygiene to prevent spread of COVID-19 highlights the increasing need for access to clean and safe running water.
Lastly, regarding education: the education system in Zimbabwe was already stretched before the COVID-19 pandemic as a result of multiple crises, including the impact of Cyclone Idai last year, the economic situation and the ongoing drought. There is a concerted effort together with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education and the Education Cluster partners to ensure minimal disruption of learning through alternative learning initiatives for the over 4 million learners across Zimbabwe and creating safe spaces for children to return back to school.
TZ: How have the Lockdown measures in place in Zimbabwe had a bearing on children? Has the development put children in poor households in more precarious position?
UNICEF: As alluded to in question above, the lockdown is having a bearing on children, particularly in poorer households. Of importance is continuity of health services for the most vulnerable. With a fragile health system, COVID-19 is causing disruptions in medical supply chains and the availability of financial and human resources. Visits to health care centres are declining due to lockdowns, curfews and transport disruptions, and as communities remain fearful of infection. Health services that impact children include family planning, antenatal and postnatal care, child delivery, vaccinations and preventive and curative services.
TZ: There are obvious deficiencies in WASH facilities in Zim. To what extent have UNICEF and developmental partners assisted Zimbabwe?
UNICEF: The current fragile situation in Zimbabwe means there is a very high risk of waterborne disease outbreaks due to a lack of access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). This crisis, combined with climate shocks and epidemics (cholera and endemic typhoid, COVID-19), continue to deepen the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe. In urban areas, electricity and chemical supply challenges have led to a significant decrease in piped water supply services leading to people relying on unsafe sources and increased vulnerability for girls and women.
UNICEF key priority interventions to reduce risks of waterborne disease outbreaks, COVID-19 and the negative impacts of drought and economic deterioration on WASH, health and nutrition include:
- Restoring access to sufficient water to cover the needs of institutions (schools, health centres) and vulnerable communities.
- Improving community awareness on safe sanitation, hygiene and solid waste management practices.
- Supporting WASH in institutions (schools, health centers) and communities with high malnutrition rates.
- Strengthen community-based health surveillance and water quality monitoring and health systems in health care facilities.
TZ: Looking ahead, in the post-Covid future, what do Governments and developments do to ensure that children are secure?
UNICEF: UNICEF will continue to support the Government in the implementation of the COVID-19 National Response Plan to prevent the spread of the virus and to reduce the socio-economic impacts on society, particularly for vulnerable households. Post-COVID-19, UNICEF will continue to support the Government to provide Zimbabwean children with access to social services and improved quality of life. Through the funding of our supportive donors, UNICEF continues to manage, amongst other programmes:
- The Health Development Fund, for accessible, quality healthcare for Zimbabwean children.
- The Education Development Fund and Global Partnership for Education to make sure all Zimbabwean children have access to quality education.
- The Child Protection Fund, to make sure that all child protection services that address violence against children, gender-based violence and sexual abuse are available to all vulnerable children and women; and
- The Rural WASH programme to increase the number of people who have access to clean, safe water, access to sanitation, and have knowledge of hygiene practices.
- Support to Government in strengthening Social Protection systems. UNICEF will also continue to use its voice to advocate for the rights of children and support policy implementation around programmes that directly impact children. – RM