Macaroni and soy stew are soon ready and already young children, teenagers and some elderly people are hurrying to queue: in this rural corner near Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, the drought linked to the El Niño phenomenon is hollowing out stomachs .

Women have prepared the tambouille in two large pots and distribute a large spoonful of each to the little ones who, very concentrated, hold out their colorful plastic plates. For many, this lunch is the only meal of the day.

This distribution point, set up since January, is the fifth set up by Samantha Muzoroki, a 39-year-old lawyer. Many parents here had reported that their children were going to bed without eating, due to the drought which burned crops.

These families generally earn their living as seasonal workers on nearby farms, except that this year there was no work because there were no crops.

Laiwa Musenza, 54 years old and four grown children, told AFP that before coming here, “we only ate once a day”.

“For those who have little ones, it’s worse.” Imagine “hearing your children crying because they are hungry and not being able to do anything,” she says in a low voice.

The Kuchengetana Foundation (taking care of each other, in Shona language), founded during the Covid pandemic, provides two meals a day to some 1,500 children.

But the severity of the drought is such that the lawyer fears her organization could be overwhelmed. “We depend on donations, which are decreasing. We receive $400 every quarter, which is less than half of our needs,” she says.

“I hope and pray that the drought, which will affect us in different ways, will not force us to close one of our centers,” said this mother of two boys.

– Too tired for school –
Zimbabwe, including neighboring Zambia and Malawi, is one of the southern African countries most affected by the severe drought linked to the El Niño phenomenon.

These three countries, which recently declared a state of natural disaster, are facing considerable crop losses, with between 40 and 80% of their corn having been decimated.

In Zimbabwe, the region's grain basket, poor rains and meager harvests are only able to feed barely more than half the population, leaving 7.6 million people dependent on aid, said in May President Emmerson Mangagwa, estimating that his country needed two billion dollars to deal with the emergency.

Last month, the UN launched an appeal for $430 million. And Unicef ​​asked for 85 million to “provide life-saving interventions”.

It's about “reducing mortality and malnutrition”, providing care but also ensuring that children stay in school and escape all forms of “abuse and exploitation”, explains to AFP Nicholas Alipui, Unicef ​​representative in the country.

In Epworth, a dormitory town to the east of the capital, “we eat once at midday and before going to bed,” explains Letwin Mhande, 36 years old and mother of four children. “Sometimes we don’t have anything to eat for the children, so they miss school.”

Her husband is unemployed and the family survives on meager sales from their fruit and vegetable stand, set up in front of their house. “Business is sluggish. Few people can afford to buy anything other than basic foods,” says this woman who manages, if she's “lucky”, to bring home two dollars a day.

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