Harare — The COVID-19 pandemic and global knock-on effects could sink or stall Zimbabwe’s ambitious reform agenda as well as efforts to revive its flagging economy, with “disastrous” consequences for the landlocked East African country’s poor and vulnerable people, according to a new UNDP impact assessment.
Zimbabwe’s economy shrank by some 6.5 percent in 2019, and the World Bank projects a further contraction of 5 to 10 percent in 2020 as a result of the pandemic. This would be “disastrous, affecting, disproportionately, the poor and vulnerable, small and informal businesses, and small-scale agricultural producers,” the assessment says. Slower imports could cause shortages and spiking inflation, deterring badly needed investment and worsening widespread poverty among Zimbabwe’s 14 million people.
Mineral production could plunge by 60 percent in the first quarter of 2020 alone as companies reduce output, meaning a potential loss of US$400 million in revenue, while tourism and foreign remittances—both vital to the economy—are plummeting.
COVID-19 also risks overwhelming Zimbabwe’s fragile and underfunded health sector—which employs 1.6 physicians and 7.2 nurses for every 10,000 people, well below WHO recommendations—which is frequently disrupted by strikes. And with some 59 percent of the population already food-insecure and relying on food assistance, global slowdowns are projected to cause a surge in malnutrition, stunting, wasting, and disease.
UNDP’s recommendations, which will inform programs and policies in response to the pandemic, include:
• Halting the spread of COVID-19 through measures such as curbing people’s mobility.
• Keeping small businesses and some more established formal businesses operational even during lockdown.
• Making critical investments in basic services such as water and sanitation and ensuring strict adherence to practices including use of face masks, regular handwashing, and social distancing.
• Mobilizing additional resources by urgently tackling illicit financial flows from the country, especially from the extractive sector.
• Strengthening the health system by addressing chronic lack of finances, shortages of trained and motivated health workers; improving service delivery and access to essential medicine and supplies; fortifying health information system; and promoting good governance in the sector.
• Cushioning a large segment of the population who are poor and vulnerable such as small farmers, petty traders, and people living with HIV and AIDS, through targeted social transfers.
• Making credit more affordable and promoting entrepreneurship.
• Promoting good governance and respect for human rights.
Support on the ground
At the country level, UNDP has allocated US$35.9 million budgeted support through resource mobilization and re-programming of funds. The Global Fund has approved US$4.1 million for procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) to ensure adequate and timely preparation and response, while additional funding will provide hazard pay for frontline health workers at high risk of contracting the disease and augment diagnostic and laboratory capacities of national health facilities.
To ensure business continuity under lockdown and related restrictions, UNDP and other UN agencies are providing e-governance support for core functions of the country’s executive, judicial, and legislative branches and by key constitutional commissions. Through its Youth Connekt platform, UNDP is also working to raise awareness, promote prevention measures, and inform the public about contact tracing and practicing proper hygiene.
UNDP is also expanding efforts to link victims of gender-based violence to essential services and sustain HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention, as well as working with more than 870,000 small-holder farmers to expand community-based disease surveillance, support isolation centers, and raise awareness of how to avoid contracting or spreading COVID-19.
To build back better, UNDP is working with the World Bank and other UN agencies to assess potential socio-economic impacts and make recommendations and provide policy guidance to the recovery process. The agency is also exploring alternative food distribution models with the informal sector to sustain key activities while adhering to COVID19 mitigation measures such as safe transport and markets.