PERSISTENT droughts that have continued to ravage most parts of Binga in Zimbabwe’s Matabeleland North province has resulted in rise in cases of malnutrition in children, a Zimbabwe Red Cross Society official said.
Speaking during a tour of the district last week, Zimbabwe Red Cross Society’s Secretary General, Maxwell Phiri noted that malnutrition amongst children was causing a lot of challenges in disadvantaged communities around Zimbabwe, chief among them stunting and compromised brain development. Adding this could seriously derail gains on sustainable development goals.
In the face of the persistent drought, the Zimbabwe Red Cross Society is already implementing a child nutrition and food security programme targeting 15 000 in-school beneficiaries in Kariba rural and Binga districts with support from Danish Red Cross.
“We are an auxiliary to government humanitarian efforts and given the food insecurity in most parts of Zimbabwe including Kariba and Binga we had to design a programme that can help avert the crisis.
“We are happy with the strides to date as child nutrition has improved while students are being kept are school as compared to the rampant drop outs before our intervention,” Phiri said.
Binga district is one of the malnutrition ravaged areas with analysts saying some of the affected areas have moderate acute malnutrition of around 3.6 percent while some have severe acute malnutrition reaching 0.6 percent.
Various school heads and community leaders interviewed commended the Red Cross for the initiative which has gone a long way in improving nutrition and food security in the beneficiary communities.
School head for Manjolo Springs Primary in Binga Monica Zharare said the Child Nutrition and Food Security programme had brought relief to the school and community.
“Binga is a drought prone area with very little rains which has left the community impoverished.
“This has resulted in massive drop outs, absenteeism and malnutrition as students struggle with hunger. We are therefore grateful for the Red Cross nutrition programme which has made a big difference though enhancing nutrition and keeping students in class,” she said.
The general food insecurity in the area means parents can’t afford the ZWL$30 per term tuition fees and that coupled with the food situation was affecting enrollment.
Zharare also highlighted that the fact that the 917 student enrollment had put her school above the threshold which qualifies it to receive funding from organisations like UNICEF.
“Some local schools with less than 600 students get funding from UNICEF for basic developments but because we have a high enrollment, we don’t pass for that support.
“Unfortunately, the number of students doesn’t translate into money as most parents struggle to pay fees and find it difficult to feed their children,” she said.
Zharare’s sentiments were echoed by David Mudenda, the school head for Siyachilaba Primary in Binga district’s ward 7.
Mudenda highlighted that the school was in one of the worst regions in terms of rainfall patterns and the community is affected by severe drought perennially hence the relevance of the Red Cross intervention.
“We are in one of the worst regions and we experience drought every year.
“Before this Red Cross programme where we are providing a sadza and beans meal, students would skip classes while some outrightly dropped out of school,” Mudenda said.
The school head also revealed that while locals were relying on fishing for survival, proceeds from this venture didn’t amount for much.
“The Red Cross intervention has helped improve school enrollment and attendance as students are getting a good meal daily and do not have to worry about hunger during class.
“We are really grateful for this support and it is our hope that the project continues to run during this lean period,” he said.
Mudenda however bemoaned grain shortages that are affecting the smooth flow of the project.
“The Red Cross is providing the cooking oil and beans while the government is providing the grain.
The grain is however running out given the huge numbers and this means we sometimes have to halt the feeding programme,” Mudenda. said.
The Red Cross is also working to improve the water situation in some of the beneficiary schools in Binga given the low water table and plans are already in place to implement this initiative.