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  • A street vendor roasts maize in central Harare, Zimbabwe Jan. 12, 2017.

    A street vendor roasts maize in central Harare, Zimbabwe Jan. 12, 2017. | Photo: Reuters

Published 1 March 2019

Already facing civil unrest, economic turmoil and sanctions, climate change and drought are also threatening the daily lives of everyday citizens in Zimbabwe.

The United Nations launched Thursday an international appeal for aid for Zimbabwe, who has been under harsh economic sanctions by the United States for over 20 years,  following a drought that the international body expects will affect around a third of the population as crop yields plummet.

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Seasonal rains have been patchy at best, hitting the harvest of the staple maize crop and deepening an economic crisis marked by an acute dollar crunch that has already led to shortages of medicines, fuel and food. The U.N. was seeking US$234 million in emergency aid in response, Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Mark Lowcock said.

Zimbabwe's annual maize consumption is 1.8 million tons and the Ministry of Agriculture said it is still assessing the extent of the drought, while Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube said the country has 500,000 tonnes in a strategic reserve.

However, farmer groups said the maize harvest, which starts in April, may be less than 1 million tons compared with 1.7 million in 2018, and the U.N. estimated Tuesday that 5.3 million Zimbabweans would require aid.

After a meeting with President Emmerson Mnangagwa, Lowcock said he would officially launch the appeal late Thursday.

As well as trying to resolve an economic crisis, Mnangagwa is struggling to maintain control over security forces following brutal crackdowns against anti-government protests that carried reminders of the regime of long-time leader Robert Mugabe.

Zimbabwe has been under a cascade of strikes, protests, and demonstrations for months over poor salaries for doctors and others, as well as rising fuel prices that reached a 150 percent hike in January. Reports of sexual abuse, police brutality and torture have surfaced in the ensuing government crackdown.

In 2009 the southern African country, grappling with hyperinflation, did away with its own currency and switched over to the U.S. dollar. Seven years later, the central bank printed bond notes attached to the dollar, theoretically, to fund government spending.

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However, shortages of fuel and banknotes have rendered Zimbabwe’s economy hard-hit. As fewer than 10 percent of the country’s populace formally employed, consumers have been facing increased economic misery.

Last Friday, Zimbabwe's central bank began trading a sharply discounted replacement currency in an effort to ease a cash crisis that has crippled the economy and plunged millions of people deeper into poverty.

The crippling economic crisis came as Zimbabwe continues to suffer from harsh economic sanctions by the U.S. which has been in place for over 20 years. As recently as September 2018, Washington has refused to lift the economic sanctions. The government continues to call for lifting the sanctions, as it recently took the campaign against sanctions to the 40th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) underway in Geneva, Switzerland.

Minister Ziyambi appealed to the U.N. Human Rights Council urging international leaders to support Zimbabwe in efforts to remove sanctions, saying they were harming ordinary citizens and stifling the nation's economic growth.

“We therefore appeal to the international community to call for the unconditional removal of the sanctions, which have caused untold suffering on our people,” the minister said. The European Union had lifted longstanding sanctions against the country in 2014. 

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