More than five million people in Zimbabwe face hunger or starvation, according to the United Nations (UN).
The World Food Programme launched a financial appeal for £270 million on Tuesday. It warned that around a third of Zimbabwe’s population need food aid.
Some 2.5 million people are “marching towards starvation” – and 5.5 million people risk being in that position by early next year.
The situation is due to a deadly cocktail of climate change and the Zimbabwean regime’s free market shock therapy.
Tens of thousands of people remain homeless due to devastation wreaked by cyclone Ida, which hit southern Africa earlier this year.
Zimbabwe is also suffering from one of its worst droughts due to “El Nino”. This natural weather pattern brings hotter and dryer weather to countries near the Pacific Ocean—but it has been intensified by global warming.
The drought slashed maize production by 50 percent and led to low water levels at the Zambezi River. This hit production at the Kariba South hydroelectric power plant, causing rolling blackouts since March.
Electricity rationing was recently extended to Zimbabwean industry, which has slashed production by as much as 40 percent at some factories.
Workers are forced to wait at the factories, not knowing when the power will come on. Brenda Mposan, a garment worker in the capital Harare, told the Al Jazeera news website, “We are terribly bored as we just sit around doing nothing.
“We wait for electricity to return every day—and it never does.”
Bosses have used the crisis to keep wages down and lay off workers – as prices for basic commodities continue to rise.
At the Stanbic Bank workers warned in June that they would have to start sleeping at work from Mondays to Saturday. A letter to bosses said, “The majority are now no longer able to pay for transport to and from work.
“Those able are not able to buy lunch and in most days work without eating anything.”
Harare factory worker Cleopatra Jack told Al Jazeera, “When we leave for home, we start picking up plastic litter to use for cooking at home.
“I can't afford gas for cooking—we are now like mad people, scavenging for rubbish.”
The impact of the drought has come on top of the regime’s austerity drive.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa replaced long-time dictator Robert Mugabe in a palace coup in October 2017. It was the result of splits within the ruling class over how to deal with Zimbabwean capitalism’s crisis.
Mnangagwa represented a faction of the ruling Zanu PF party that thought Mugabe’s free market reforms hadn’t gone far enough. He wanted to normalise relations with Western imperialism, which pauperised Zimbabwe, in the hope of bringing in investment.
In January Mnangagwa raised fuel prices by 150 percent, leading to mass protests and repression.
The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) opposition party plans protests against the government this week. Trade unions originally set up the MDC as a left wing alternative. But its leadership has drifted into backing free market policies.
Working class people will have to take to the streets and assert their own demands for social justice.