Urban poor may be forced to skip meals

More poor urban households will have to skip meals, eat less at every meal or migrate to squatter settlements where no rent is paid, because they will not be able to afford the escalating cost of food.

Some might even migrate to rural areas where the cost of living is considered to be relatively lower while others may pull out their children from school.

This grim picture is painted by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network in its report released in January.

It says while food of all kinds is available in most urban shops, and is likely to continue to be available until the end of the current marketing year in March, most consumers have been priced out of the food market.

It says the cost of the low-income urban household monthly basket monitored by the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe had increased to about $647 000 in November.

This was a 36 percent increase over the previous month. The food basket had, however, increased by 49 percent over the previous month and by 1076 percent over the previous year.

"Between October and November, the industrial minimum wage increased by 534 percent," FEWSNet says, "yet this higher wage rate was able to purchase just 11 percent of the total food basket and only 7 percent of the monthly expenditure basket".

It says the price of maize went up by 117 percent between October and November while that of beef increased by 79 percent, and flour by 63 percent. The price of maize meal has since doubled.

The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe says there was now noticeable consumer resistance to the ever-increasing prices with products considered luxury foods such as rice, margarine and meat being the worst affected.

FEWS says about 5.02 million people in the rural areas and one million in urban areas would need food assistance from January to March.

The World Food Programme which has been providing the bulk of the food assistance had very limited stocks, FEWS says.

WFP distributed 25 000 tonnes in October, 34 000 tonnes in November but only had 10 500 tonnes in stock in mid-December.

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