Covid-19 Pushes Low Income Households Into Extreme Poverty

The year 2020 will go down in history as the most difficult time a deadly pandemic, the Coronavirus plunged the world, bringing economies to their knees.

Michelle Chifamba

In Zimbabwe, the working population most of whom are daily wage earners- had their incomes disrupted as a result of the government’s nationwide lockdown, affecting their household food supplies.

Parents have mourned the impact of the pandemic as they fail to provide basic food and nutritional supplies for the children.

In Mt Hampden, a small-low income community, approximately 40 kilometers west of Harare’s central business district, thirty-five-year-old Cynthia Fusiri makes way into the densely populated residential compound, balancing a bucket packed with chicken-offals.

She sells a packet for 50 cents ($45 ZWL) and makes a profit of between USD$1.50 to US$2 a day, for a bucket with 20 or 25 packed packets.

A single mother of three, Fusiri recounts how the deadly pandemic has impacted her life and that of her children.

“I have barely been able to put food on the table for my young children. It has been painful to watch helplessly as my children cry from hunger. The worst effects of the disease have been on food supply,” Fusiri said.

The Development and Economic Growth Research Programme has shown that the financial impact of the pandemic is threatening to reverse gains made in per capita income, leading to damaging effects on both short-and long-term poverty.

It was shown that in Africa, more than half of all households are reporting reduced incomes, with low-income households suffering the worst.

The World Bank says in 2020 informal businesses for low-income households have fallen by 20 percent,

It also states that some of the negative coping mechanisms for low-income households include reducing food consumption, inability to buy medicine and children no longer attending school.

Fusiri explains that before the lockdown, she worked as a pre-school teacher in Westgate: “As a result of the imposed lockdown, schools have been closed and I lost my employment, I have to look for other ways to make a living to support my children.”

During the total lockdown, Fusiri exhausted all her savings to buy food to feed her children- “I was loaned $20 USD, when the lockdown restrictions were relaxed.  I had to start a small business to generate income to feed my children and pay rent in the 2 roomed cottage I stay in.”

Although the returns are so small, and she is barely getting-by, Fusiri says “it is better than nothing.”

The Global Land Report of 2018 states that, one in three stunted under-five year old children out of 155 million across the world now live in cities and towns, as poverty becomes the major driver for the poor into cities.

Government statistics show that in the period between 2012 and 2019, there has been an increase in household poverty from 22.9 percent to 31.9 percent in 2019.

The United Nations notes that Zimbabwe is facing a severe hunger crisis in 2020, with 7.7 million people (approximately 60 percent of the population) food insecure, the majority of whom are in urban areas.

In Hopley, an unregulated settlement located in the southern part of Harare- a single room made from cheap quality building material is home to 33-year-old Moreblessing Chirundu.

Chirundu and her husband Albert Nyamuzihwa have five children- the oldest is a 14-year-old daughter and the youngest a two-year-old son.

“Our situation has been worsened by the pandemic, because jobs have been hard to come by. We have had to work for food, walking into the nearby residential areas looking for menial jobs such as doing laundry, in exchange for a cup of rice, sugar, mealie-meal, or a bar of soap,” Chirundu said.

Shamwari Yemwasikana, a community based non-governmental organization in Chitungwiza notes that as a result of the coronavirus, household poverty has been a major challenge that has affected children especially girls in low income communities.

According to Shamwari Yemwanasikana the pandemic has affected the gains the country made towards eliminating early marriages among adolescent girls in low income communities.

“As a result of the increased economic burden, parents may consider sending their adolescent girl children for early marriage to ease economic burden. In some cases, the young girls themselves have opted to go into early marriages as a way of escaping household poverty, verbal and physical abuse from their parents and guardians,” said Florence Mutake, Shamwari Yemwanasikana programs coordinator.

“It has been difficult to convince parents who are burdened with household poverty to protect the rights of girls. We have been working in communities to look for support that can protect the rights of young girls, and what we need as a nation is to ensure that we create social safety nets that come into effect not only during crisis, but one that can be maintained in any situation,” Mutake said.

Dr Godfrey Kanyenze, director for Labour and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe (Ledriz) challenged parliamentarians to critically scrutinize the government policies that champion pro-poor economic development.

“No-one in Zimbabwe should be allowed to earn wages that are below a certain level. Parliamentarians should work towards policies that allow for a minimum wage, food and poverty-line. People must be at the center of development and parliament has a massive role to play in ensuring the economy works for citizens,” Dr Kanyenze said, during a ZIMCODD, Budget Strategy Paper (BSP) analysis symposium.