In past months, I have heard conversations about poverty in my beloved country, Zimbabwe. Based on these conversations, sentiments are that poverty in the country is worsening and is now more pronounced in urban than rural areas. Rather than reviewing the latest Zimbabwe poverty report as promised here, this blog sheds light on the level, trends in and spatial distribution of poverty in the country.
When we talk of the state of poverty, we are referring to the measurement of poverty. As I argued here, there is no ‘perfect’ poverty measure and different poverty measures yield different pictures of poverty within society. Zimbabwe uses the Food Poverty Line (FPL), also referred to as the Lower Line, to measure extreme poverty, and the Total Consumption Poverty Line (TCPL), also known as the Upper Line, to measure poverty. According to the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency, the FPL represents the level of income that a person needs to afford the minimum required daily energy intake of 2 100 calories, while the TCPL is the FPL plus the minimum cost of non-food basic requirements such as housing and clothing. The FPL and TCPL are monetary-based poverty measures. Hence, the poverty level, trends and spatial distribution in Zimbabwe are presented through the income lens. I am certain that a use of a different measure, such as the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), would yield a different picture.
Poverty Level and Trends
The level of poverty in Zimbabwe is high. According to Zimbabwe’s latest (2019) poverty report, in 2017, 70.5 % and 29.3% of the population were living in poverty and extreme poverty, respectively.
Is poverty in Zimbabwe getting worse? Data extracted from the Zimbabwe 2019 poverty report (Figure1) reveals that, between 1995 and 2017, the country experienced a decline in poverty. Could this be true, given the 2007-8 economic crisis? Indeed, based on the World Bank data (Figure 2), Zimbabwe experienced a spike in poverty between 2007 and 2008, but thereafter, the country experienced a significant decline in poverty levels. As of 2019, however, poverty in the country has been rising rapidly due to the Covid 19 pandemic, as well as economic and other factors. According to the World Bank, about 6.6 million Zimbabweans lived in extreme poverty in 2019. Today, the number of people in the country living in extreme poverty is estimated to be 7.9 million. You can read more about the rise of extreme poverty in Zimbabwe here. In light of the foregoing discussion, the sentiment that poverty in Zimbabwe is worsening is vindicated.
Spatial Distribution of Poverty
Poverty in Zimbabwe was and is still a predominantly rural phenomenon. The decline of extreme poverty in the country, between 1995 and 2017, was not as significant in rural areas as it was in urban areas (Figure 3). According to the World Bank Report, in 2019, about 90% of the people living in extreme poverty were in rural areas. Today, as the World Bank reported here, poverty in Zimbabwe is still more pronounced in rural areas, even though urban poverty, as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic, is rising faster than rural poverty.
At provincial level, the prevalence of poor people is high in Mashonaland Central, Matabeleland North, Manicaland, Mashonaland West, Matabeleland South and Mashonaland East, respectively (for more information, read pages 44-46 of the Zimbabwe 2019 Poverty Report).
To sum things up: Yes, poverty in Zimbabwe is escalating. However, it remains a largely rural phenomenon. In researching for this post, the state of child poverty in the country drew my attention and this will therefore be the focus of my next blog post about poverty in Zimbabwe.
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