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More than just a virus: tackling coronavirus in Zimbabwe

Glorious washes her hands using a tippy tap in Zimbabwe
Glorious uses a tippy-tap in Zimbabwe (Image taken prior to coronavirus)

Handwashing, social distancing and regular updates have become a part of our everyday lives here in the UK. At the time of writing, Zimbabwe has 885 confirmed cases and 9 deaths from coronavirus. While these numbers seem low, the things we take for granted in our attempts to reduce the spread of coronavirus in the UK are often simply not feasible in Zimbabwe. The risks associated with the pandemic are far greater than just those of the virus itself – food and water scarcity are becoming an increasingly urgent issue as well.

Zimbabwe has faced a strict lockdown for the past two months with closed borders, and movement within the country only allowed with a government issued certificate. In this lockdown stage, people in rural communities felt the pressure of limited movement. When lockdown began, farmers could not get to their fields to tend to their crops, and people were unable to take produce to markets to buy and sell. Thankfully, farmers are now able to access their fields as lockdown measures have begun to lift; people can move around for essentials with a face mask, and registered businesses can have clients as long as they check temperatures. However, even with the easing of lockdown, Zimbabwe’s poorest communities continue to bear the brunt of restrictions.  The informal sector remains closed, meaning those who would use casual jobs to supplement income are not able to do so.

All We Can is committed to supporting and engaging with local people and organisations to implement effective and sustainable solutions to inequality and injustice. All We Can’s partners in Zimbabwe are working within their local District Covid Task Force, which allows them to continue to work with the local communities. There is a significant awareness gap in rural communities. Accurate, factual information may not reach these areas and often they view coronavirus as an ‘urban disease’ – and so do not see the need to practice some of the preventive measures, particularly social distancing. Our partners are working hard to spread awareness of the importance of these measures, as well trying to discourage some social and cultural practices, such as hand-shaking, which can further spread the virus.

Recently, the first confirmed positive cases in the rural communities All We Can work with have created panic. Testing is limited in Zimbabwe, particularly in rural areas, so it is hard to track where cases are. The greatest risk in rural areas is the congregation of people at the limited, communal water points with little social distancing. In areas where water is scarce, it is desperately needed to stay hydrated, cook with and to water crops. Handwashing is at times regarded as an unnecessary use of water. One of our local partners has solarised a disused borehole, to assist in supplying water to households for hand washing. This innovative solution to the issue of limited water will also decongest other water points, and allow for hand washing stations to be set up in areas where people congregate.

Food is becoming an increasing priority due to the poor Harvest that occurred immediately prior to coronavirus. In Zimbabwe, the growing season has finished and the dry season is ahead of them. Without the challenges caused by coronavirus, food would be scarce and some communities would struggle to provide for themselves – but with a global pandemic added to the mix, the situation is exacerbated. One of our local partners is focusing on a long-term developmental, rather than short-term relief, approach – realising that post-coronavirus food scarcity will continue to be an issue. Instead of just distributing food supplements, our partner has introduced herb planting and nutrition gardens. These will allow people to continue to grow crops in the face of food shortages, provide work, income, and boost immunity to general diseases.

Your generosity has helped over 90,000 people in Zimbabwe through the Emergency Coronavirus Appeal, and through your ongoing support of All We Can’s long term development work as well. In addition to this, grants from the World Mission Fund have also supported the Methodist Church in Zimbabwe’s ongoing coronavirus response, helping provide assistance through a foodbank and PPE. You can find out more about grants given by the World Mission Fund here.

It is easy to forget about urgent issues, such as food and water access, facing some of the world’s poorest communities when we are facing a global pandemic. Your continued support is vital, now more than ever. Please help us continue to reach those most in need during this difficult time – give now.

About the Author Roxanne Bainbridge

Roxanne Bainbridge is working for All We Can as its Communications Officer as part of a year-long internship with the Methodist Church. Having studied a Master's degree in Education and Community Practice, she is passionate about empowering and educating communities to stand together against inequality and injustice. Roxanne grew up in North Wales and splits her time between Cardiff and London, as she loves and misses the Welsh spirit.

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