1.1 Zimbabwe Humanitarian Background



In recent years, food production in Zimbabwe has been devastated by a number of factors including natural hazards and economic and political instability. Recurrent drought, a series of poor harvests, high unemployment (estimated at more than 60%), restructuring of the agriculture sector and a high HIV/AIDS prevalence rate – at 14.7%, the fifth highest in the world - have all contributed to increasing levels of vulnerability and acute food insecurity since 2001. This situation has necessitated large-scale humanitarian food relief operations in the country.

The 2020 Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVAC) rural livelihoods assessment showed the impact  the drought is having on acute and chronic malnutrition in the country. Rural food insecurity during the peak hunger period from January to March 2020 is projected to reach 56 percent or 5.4 million people which is the highest rural food insecurity prevalence since 2009.

The economy is currently faced with a diverse range of macro-economic and financial challenges, which include low economic growth. Growth in 2020 is now anticipated at be 4.6% Depressed international commodity prices; Liquidity constraints and cash shortages in part due to deteriorating trade balance arising from low export receipts, high levels of imports and low levels of foreign direct investment.

The adverse macro-economic environment has also been characterised by leakages of foreign currency through externalization, underpricing of exports, mineral smuggling and other illicit flows. Hyperinflation of local commodities is occurring due to a shortage of RTGS/Zimbabwe bonds. Trade in USD is no longer permitted in the country and electronic currency has been developed in an attempt to address the cash shortages. This however has seen increased activity in the black market.

Zimbabwe is a low-income, food-deficit country and is ranked 1502 out of 189 countries according to the  2013 UNDP Human Development Index. Currently, 72% of the population live below the national poverty line (less than US $1.25 per day). Some 30% of the rural poor are considered to be ‘food poor’ or ‘extremely poor.’ Although the prevalence of HIV has been reduced, it still remains high with nearly 15 percent of adults living with HIV – many of whom also suffer from malnutrition due to food insecurity.

Drier than average conditions have affected parts of southern Zimbabwe. The delayed onset of the season combined with a poor mid-season rainfall pattern at critical stages of maize development, have led to unfavourable expectations for regional maize production. The Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVAC), led by the Government with support various partners and WFP, recently published the 2016 Rural Livelihoods Assessment report. According to the report, some 1.5 million people - 16 percent of the rural population - will have insufficient means to meet their minimum food needs during the 2016-17 lean season, that period prior to the next harvest when domestic food stocks tend to become depleted. This represents a 164 per cent increase on the numbers of food insecure people during 2013-14 though it is only a little above the five-year average for Zimbabwe. 

Despite this decrease, food and nutrition security remains fragile and subject to natural and economic shocks in Zimbabwe, with chronic and persistent rates of undernourishment. One third of Zimbabwe’s children are stunted, or short for their age. The country continues to face economic stress which has implications on food security, especially for vulnerable groups in rural areas. Due to deflation/disinflation, household incomes remain low and liquidity challenges affect the demand for goods and services, especially for poor households. Barter is a common form of exchange during lean periods. Where grain is used for such transactions, household food stocks tend to get exhausted at a faster rate. Meanwhile, rural poverty has increased from 63 percent in 2003 to 76 percent in 2014. Most households in the rural areas are net food buyers: they do not (for a number of reasons) produce enough food to meet their needs through to the next harvest season. Consequently, they rely on markets and other non-farm sources such as casual labour to bridge the food gap to the next season. As such, a number of people in rural areas will struggle to meet their daily food needs.

Disasters, Conflicts, and Migrations
Natural Hazards Yes / No Comments / Details
Drought Yes Cyclic, recurring. There are recurring period of droughts mainly in the provinces of Masvingo, Matabeleland South, Matabeleland North and some parts of the Midlands.
The normal dry season extends from April to August but it may sometimes extend till December/January. 
Earthquakes Yes No epicentre in Zimbabwe but in 2006 shockwaves from Mozambique were felt in the eastern parts of the country.
Epidemics Yes Cholera and AIDS are prevalent
Extreme Temperatures No
Flooding Yes Cyclone Idai hit Zimbabwe in March 2019 causing widespread flooding.
Insect Infestation Yes Mopani worms have been known to decimate areas. Fall army worms were also been a problem in 2020.
Mudslides No
Volcanic Eruptions No
High Waves / Surges No
Wild Fires Yes Burning for cropping or for livestock pastures is a common agricultural practice
High Winds No
Man-made Issues
Civil Strife No
International Conflict No
Internally Displaced Persons Yes As a result of famine or flooding, but not permanently.
Internally displaced populations are a result of post election violence.
Note: there is an increasing flow of Zimbabweans into South Africa and Botswana in search of better economic opportunities (2009 est.)
Refugees Present No
Landmines / UXO Present Yes According to the Landmine & Cluster Munition Monitor, All known casualties by end 2014: 1,602 mine/ERW casualties
Other Comments Yes A level 2 emergency in Zimbabwe was declared in 2019-20 to respond to growing food security needs as a result of widespread drought, flooding and macroeconomic shocks.

For more detailed database on disasters by country, please see the Centre for Research on Epidemiology of Disasters.

Calamities and Seasonal Affects

Zimbabwe enjoys a temperate climate during the dry season. The cooler, drier months (May to October) are characterized by warm sunny days and cold clear nights. It never snows, though overnight frosts and freezing temperatures are not uncommon. The low veld and the Zambezi Valley experience hotter and more humid temperatures, but in the winter there is very little rainfall. Most of Zimbabwe’s rain falls in brief afternoon deluges and electrical storms in the relatively humid and warmer months from November to April. Zimbabwe has the second highest incidence of lightning strikes in the world. Although Zimbabwe lies wholly within the Tropics, the normal tropical continental climate is considerably modified by altitude, especially on the central plateau where temperatures are lower than at sea level in the same latitude. The Eastern Highlands experience the lowest temperatures.

The year falls roughly into three seasons: a dry winter, covering the months from April to August, with cool temperatures especially at night when frost is sometimes experienced; a hot season with temperatures building up to a maximum in October or early November and a wet season in which the main rains usually come around mid-November and continue until March. The main rains are associated with the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). The ITCZ, where the northerly and southerly air masses meet, follows the seasonal movements of the overhead sun north and south of the Equator, hence the occurrence of the Zimbabwean wet season during the southern summer. June is the coolest month and October is the warmest: temperature variations correspond with height. Typically you cannot tell if there will be an El Nino until the last month of December or first week in January.

Seasonal Effects on Transport



From (month) to (month)

Primary Road Transport

Not affected


Secondary Road Transport


Rail Transport

Needs recapitalisation


Air Transport

Not affected


Waterway Transport



The seasonal effects on transport are minimal in Zimbabwe. During heavy downpours secondary roads can become locally impracticable for a short period of time. Transport can temporarily be disrupted in the path of a cyclone or a tropical storm (January / February). Some bridges were devastated in Manicaland as a result of the El Nino (1998) and Eline (2000) cyclones. Cyclone Idai (2019) destroyed bridges in  But otherwise transport operations inside and outside Zimbabwe are not greatly affected by the seasons. Severe rains may disrupt the road transport operations along the Beira corridor (Pungwe Riverand Pungwe Plains). Long and heavy rains in Mozambique also affect the Limpopo railway line. Roads and railways normally get busier during harvest time, where there is an increase of traffic and heavy vehicles on the roads, but because of the current economic situation and the low crop it is not foreseeable to see congestions on the roads.

It is to be taken into consideration, though, that the decrease in the number of vehicles available as a consequence of the economic crisis might in the long run become a problem when contracting transporters. In fact, at the moment, considerable portions of transporters’ fleets are idle because of lack of business or difficulties in procuring fuel, which in the long run might force them to reduce the number of vehicles and therefore impact availability of trucks, with obvious impacts on transport costs as well.

Seasonal Effects on Storage and Handling



From <month> to <month>




Warehousing (unless badly maintained) is not susceptible to seasonal effects, but prices may fluctuate when tobacco selling season starts. In 2020 significant increases in warehouse needs arose to accommodate the move to in-kind food donations due to shortages and the economic shock

The manufacturing industry closes from mid-December to mid-January so facilities in use over this time need prior arrangements to be made.

November – March (climate)

March – July (tobacco sales)


Border delays during the wet months often result in affected product.

November – March

Warehouses are affected by difficult weather conditions: very high temperatures in Beitbridge and heavy rains in Mutare. The upkeep and maintenance are the primary reason for the warehousing problems. Measures are in place to mitigate any risks, but it is recommended to try and avoid stocking commodities in adverse conditions for too long.

Capacity and Contacts for In-Country Emergency Response


The Zimbabwe Department of Civil Protection is the lead agency for government efforts to manage disaster risk in all the spheres of government. In its effort, the Government of Zimbabwe is working in collaboration with the humanitarian community in-country. The overall objective of the Inter-Agency Contingency Plan is to support the Government of Zimbabwe (GoZ) in mounting a timely and coordinated preparedness and response to identified hazards in order to minimize potential humanitarian consequences. The Government of Zimbabwe (GoZ) champions disaster and emergency preparedness and response and the humanitarian community complements government efforts. There is a Disaster Management Act in place and legislatively stipulates authority and powers for the declaration of emergency or state of disaster. NGO’s can be co-opted depending on the services they offer and the priority of the humanitarian issue.

Governments and humanitarian organisations have invested time and financial resources in contingency planning but the challenge has been in establishing conclusive evidence of the relation between contingency planning and effective response. In its fulfilment of the primary role of protecting its citizens’ lives during disasters, Government through the Ministry of Local Government, Rural and Urban Planning’s Department of Civil Protection (DCP), Government ministries, UN Agencies and various Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), developed a National Contingency Plan that is updated annually to reflect the evolving hazard profile of the country. This plan is part of an important disaster preparedness process which allows Government and its partners to plan for disasters with the aim of minimizing damage to property and loss of life.

Zimbabwe has capacities which include the availability of legal frame works and instruments. Of note is the reform of the Disaster Risk Management (DRM) framework guided by the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015. Another notable capacity is the existence of a functional national platform with a wide cross sectional representation from Government, UN agencies as well as local and international NGOs. This is complemented by relatively functional Civil Protection Committees both at Provincial and District levels. The National Platform, in form of the National Civil Protection Committee meets regularly to create consensus on issues that require intervention. In addition, there is a dedicated Government department, the Department of Civil Protection under the Ministry of Local Government, Rural and Urban Development, which has the overall responsibility of disaster risk management. Partners such as the UN System and NGOs (local and international) have been providing emergency preparedness and response (EPR), assessments and early recovery assistance to the Government of Zimbabwe.

For more information on government contact details, please see the following link: 4.1 Zimbabwe Government Contact List

Humanitarian Community

The political and economical situation in Zimbabwe stabilized compared to most of 2008. The introduction of a multi-currency system practically led to a halt in inflation, although this has not yet substantially improved the standard of living of most Zimbabweans. Political violence, which characterized much of 2008, has largely come to a halt, while a process of national healing and reconciliation has started. Humanitarian organisations and NGOs have more space to operate and bans were lifted.

OCHA re-established its presence in Zimbabwe for the 2019 Cyclone Idai response in which the IASC cluster system was activated, and extending out to the food security situation in 2020. The government's capacity to react to emergencies is limited. The cluster strategy has worked very effectively albeit with tense government relations. The main GoZ departments involved within the cluster set up are Ministry of Health and Child Care, and Ministry of Regional Integration and International Co-operation. The principle of last resort has allowed those leading each cluster to come together when the planned pipeline of aid cannot meet the demands of those affected hence the need for a functional, predictable and coordinated response. The government has articulated the disaster coordination structure, which is headed by the Inter-Ministerial committee, the Committee of Permanent Secretaries (DYNAMO) and the Department of the Civil Protection. At the bottom of the hierarchy are the technical committees, depending on the nature of the emergency at hand, including the finance and logistics committees. On the humanitarian side, the HC/RC will propose the activation of this plan in consultation with the IASC and the Government of Zimbabwe’s Inter-Ministerial Committee.

The Emergency Response Fund for Zimbabwe was established as a pooled fund in 2006. It was initially set up to meet the emergency needs of people affected by displacement but has continued to be replenished by donors thereby facilitating response to emerging response requirements in the country. Being a pooled fund of un-earmarked contributions from various donors, the ERF operates with greater flexibility and speedier approval processes than traditional funding mechanisms. The guiding principles of the fund is to allow timely emergency and/or gap filling responses through consultative and collaborative approval processes by the representatives of key stakeholders from UN agencies and local and international NGOs participating in the Advisory Board. The Advisory Board is chaired by the UN Humanitarian Coordinator. Members are drawn from two UN Agencies, IOM and two NGO (national and international representatives). OCHA Zimbabwe provides secretariat support to the management of the fund while clusters are consulted for technical inputs.

Soon after the signing of the 15 September 2008 Global Political Agreement (GPA) that paved the way for the formation of a Government of National Unity (GNU) the ERF was used to provide short term funds in five key sectors; WASH, health, education, protection and agriculture. This was to give implementing agencies an opportunity to kick-start or intensify some humanitarian activities as they fundraised for more resources. Implementation period for projects is limited up to a maximum of 6 months and the funding can be made up to US $250,000 per project. Each implementing agency can have up to three active projects at a time. The applicant agencies are encouraged to consult relevant partners in the cluster/working group, geographical areas and local communities during development of the intervention. For the final round of consultation, the Advisory Board is normally given 48 hours to make a recommendation to the Humanitarian Coordinator. Once the approval process is completed, an agreement is entered between the implementing partner and the Humanitarian Coordinator, after which OCHA requests for the funds to be released directly to the implementing agency from the Geneva based account.

Structures Presently in place:

  • Operational Governmental decentralized structures under the Ministry of Local Government and Urban Development (MLGUD) ensures the liaison between local and national authorities, NGOs and the United Nations.
  • The Information/Communication Committee formed and chaired by the GoZ and the HC being supported by OCHA and composed of information officers from the various GoZ, UN/NGOs agencies will be convened. The group will provide guidelines to the press as well as to the designated spokespersons.
  • The UNCT is chaired by the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator and brings all UN agency heads together for discussion and decision making.
  • The SMT is regularly considering security issues and meets under the chairmanship of the Designated Official with participation from all UN agencies.
  • The local level IASC meeting consists of all UN agencies, NGO representation, IOM, IFRC and meets monthly under the chairmanship of the Humanitarian Coordinator / HC
  • Chairs of Sector Working Groups meet bimonthly to inform on progress made vis-à-vis their terms of reference and to discuss cross-cutting issues, bottle necks and opportunities. Forward plans are shared and approaches are harmonized among different groups.
  • Donor consultative meetings are held on a monthly basis to discuss current activities, plans, resource needs and implementation levels of projects and programmes. The Humanitarian Coordinator chairs the meetings.
  • NGO consultative meetings are held on a quarterly basis under the chairmanship of the Humanitarian Coordinator. Issues that are of relevance to the NGOs are discussed there.
  • The Crisis committee: Has been established by the IASC and is being convened by OCHA Zimbabwe. The members are IOM, UNICEF, OCHA, UNHCR, WFP, UNDP, FAO.
  • The Inter-Cluster Coordination Group (ICCG) originally for the Cyclone Idai response is still meeting weekly to address the lean season food shortage situation.

For more information on humanitarian coordination and emergency scenarios in Zimbabwe, please see the following attachment: Humanitarian Coordination and Scenarios and Planning Assumptions

For more information on humanitarian contact details, please see the following link: 4.2 Zimbabwe Humanitarian Agency Contact List.

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