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Drought and decline

Zimbabwe Crisis Watch

The International Rescue Committee first began working in Zimbabwe in 2008, following a devastating cholera outbreak. We continue to provide vital support to Zimbabweans who are coping with the effects of the worst drought in more over 35 years while struggling to recover from a decade-long economic decline.

What's happening

  • IRC teams on the ground are monitoring the situation after Cyclone Idai made its way into Zimbabwe.

  • The cyclone is being called the deadliest natural disaster of 2019, with heavy damage already reported in Mozambique and Malawi.

Country facts
  • Population: 14.15 million
  • People affected by current crisis: 4.4 million
  • Rank in Human Development Index: 155 of 188
IRC response
  • Started work in Zimbabwe: 2008

Zimbabwe crisis briefing

Zimbabwe, located in southern Africa, is plagued by the worst drought in three decades and a weakened economy. The IRC helps vulnerable Zimbabweans access the resources they need to survive, rebuild their lives and take control of their futures.

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What caused the current crisis in Zimbabwe?

Zimbabwe has great potential for growth, but ongoing crises continue to prevent progress. The devastating 2008 cholera outbreak sickened over 100,000 people. The 2016 drought caused by El Nino – the worst in 35 years – destroyed crops and livelihoods and is expected to leave over 4.4 million people without enough food to eat in 2017. In response, Zimbabwe's government declared a state of disaster in February 2016. 

As the country's economy continues to weaken, job opportunities and funding for essential services remain scarce.

What are the main humanitarian challenges in Zimbabwe?

The 2016 drought could leave 4.4 million people in Zimbabwe -- and 50 million people across all of southern Africa -- without enough food to eat. Rural communities are hit particularly hard by such recurrent natural disasters. 

Aid groups responding to the drought are focused on providing emergency food and cash assistance, as well as support for farmers and agriculture-related businesses, among other key humanitarian priorities. 
While progress has been made in recent years, malnutrition rates and maternal mortality remain high in Zimbabwe. Just 23% of people in rural areas have reliable access to clean water and adequate sanitation services, leaving much of the population vulnerable to outbreaks of diseases like cholera and typhoid. 

Domestic violence and other forms of violence against women and girls tend to spike during crisis. In Zimbabwe, one in three girls has been a victim of violence, but few services are available to support these young survivors.

How does the IRC help in Zimbabwe?

The IRC’s mission is to help people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover and gain control of their future.

We first began working in Zimbabwe in 2008, following the country’s devastating cholera outbreak. We have continued to work with local communities to improve sanitation, access to clean water and livelihood opportunities.

As the country struggles to deal with the effects of drought and economic insecurity, the IRC is focusing our efforts in Manicaland and Masvingo provinces by: 

  • providing direct cash transfers to enable people to purchase food and meet other basic needs;
  • providing vouchers that will enable farmers to purchase what they need to plant and harvest new crops and recover from the effects of the drought; 
  • helping farmers get enough food to feed their livestock, thereby preserving a vital economic asset that can help them make a swift recovery after the drought;
  • drilling wells deeper and rehabilitating water collection points  to provide more people with access to safe water
  • providing food for pregnant women to help ensure they are adequately nourished and can safely deliver their babies in rural health clinics.

What still needs to be done?

The IRC’s work in Zimbabwe is more critical than ever as the country struggles to rebuild from the effects of natural disasters and a weakened economy. We pledge to put the needs of those most affected by crisis, specifically women and girls, at the forefront of our efforts and to achieve measurable improvements in health, economic wellbeing and power. Here’s a closer look at some of the work we will be doing over the next few years to achieve our goals.

We will continue to support Zimbabweans who have been plagued by drought and disease, expanding our reach to rural regions that have received little or no aid. We’ll also provide emergency assistance and work with local communities to build resilience against potential disasters.


People should be protected from illness and receive medical treatment when they need it. The IRC will work to ensure that people are protected from water, sanitation and hygiene-related diseases. Towards this outcome, we will improve access to safe water and sanitation facilities, especially in vulnerable rural areas.

We will also help communities provide clinical care for sexual assault survivors and establish programs to protect women and girls from violence.

Economic wellbeing

People should have the means to meet basic needs; they should have opportunities to earn an income and build their assets. The IRC will continue to work with farmers whose livelihoods have been destroyed by natural disasters. We will also provide financial services and set up career initiatives that help people recover and gain control of their futures.


People should have a say in decisions that affect them collectively. The IRC will work with Zimbabweans to strengthen local communities, develop decision-making skills and plan disaster risk management programs. With a commitment to gender equality, we will also work to ensure that women and girls have the same opportunities as men and boys.

As in all our efforts, the IRC will strive to reach more people more quickly, increase the effectiveness of our work, listen to the concerns of those affected by our work, and hold ourselves accountable for results.

Download the IRC's Zimbabwe strategy action plan to learn more about our program priorities through 2020.