Journal Issue


International Monetary Fund
Published Date:
October 2005
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I. Recent Trends in Poverty and Social Indicators1

1. Zimbabwe’s living standards and social indicators, which for a long time had been among the best in Africa, have deteriorated rapidly over the last few years. The estimated proportion of the population living below the official poverty line has more than doubled since mid-1990s due to decreasing real incomes and rising unemployment.2 Poverty has been on the rise in both urban and rural areas, as manifested in a growing number of street children, homeless people, and those in need of food aid. In the past couple of years the government redesigned its safety net programs. The Rural and Urban Public Works Program (PWP) and the Basic Education Assistance Module were put in place to help those in need. The PWP is designed to be scaled up when increased assistance is needed. However, the ability of the authorities to increase spending on social safety net programs in real terms is limited by the continuous economic decline and the resulting rise in the demand for social assistance. The adequacy of pensions has also been adversely affected by high inflation and savings schemes for the aged do not exist.

2. The plight of the poor has been further worsened by food insecurity. There was a substantial shortfall in food production during the 2003/04 and 2004/05 agricultural seasons on account of the overall contraction in agricultural production, which resulted in part from drought. About 40 percent of the population is expected to continue to be food insecure for the period April 2005 to March 2006 due to reduced food availability and decreased purchasing power.3

3. The economic crisis in Zimbabwe has led to a sharp deterioration of the medical infrastructure and shortages of essential drugs and equipment, particularly in public hospitals. The health sector is characterized by poor working conditions for staff as remuneration is inadequate and protective working materials are lacking. Staff attrition is high as health professionals seek better opportunities abroad or succumb to HIV/AIDS, thus exacerbating the already existing deficit in personnel. For instance, the public sector has a deficit of 843 medical doctors from an established complement of 1,530, and a deficit of 4,700 nurses from an established complement of 11,640. The high attrition, compounded by the lack of adequate resources to run health facilities, has greatly reduced the capacity of the sector to deliver services. The high prevalence of HIV/AIDS has also placed a huge strain on the health delivery system, as AIDS patients occupy between 50 percent and 70 percent of all hospital beds.4

4. Zimbabwe is among the hardest hit of the HIV/AIDS epidemic countries. The prevalence rate among the adult population is estimated at 24.6 percent. The devastating impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic has led to marked worsening of the quality of life with increased morbidity, mortality and orphan-headed households. Life expectancy at birth declined from its peak of 62 years to 39 years. The deteriorating economic conditions and their impact on the population, represents a serious constraint on reducing the incidence of infection. The recent Zimbabwe Human Development Report (ZHDR) reveals that economic hardships expose poor people to high risk of HIV infection through risky sexual behavior, including sex in exchange for cash, food, tillage and agricultural inputs, jobs and other basic necessities.

5. The Government has been trying to come up with a coordinated response to the epidemic, but the financial and operational capacity to do so remains limited. Zimbabwe’s National AIDS Policy was developed through a consultative process and is supported by legal instruments. The Government established the National AIDS Council (NAC) in 2000 to coordinate a multisectoral response to the epidemic and to mobilize additional resources. In 2001, the NAC launched the district response initiative to facilitate a decentralized national response. The Government established the National AIDS Trust Fund (NATF) financed through a 3 percent levy on personal and corporate income. Initially, the NATF lacked clear disbursement mechanisms and there were concerns about political interference in the allocation of resources. The NAC has since worked on establishing transparent guidelines for channeling the NATF resources to HIV/AIDS programs. Pressure from NGOs and civic groups also helped in establishing transparency. However, funding for AIDS treatment remains very low–only about 1 percent of those requiring treatment receive anti-retroviral medication.

6. With regard to education, escalating tuition and related costs coupled with increased economic hardship has resulted in increased school drop out rates. The primary school enrolment rates over the last five years dropped substantially for both boys and girls. Many households are too poor to afford the state school fees, equivalent to US$4 a term. Drop-out rates have also increased because of the higher rates of teenage pregnancies and increased death rates of parents and guardians from HIV/AIDS.

7. The standard of education has fallen significantly due to staff attrition and the resulting increase in pupil/teacher ratios. As more qualified teachers opt for more accessible schools and HIV infected teachers seek transfers to areas where they can have better access to health services, the balance of demand for and supply of education in the country has been radically transformed. The increasingly unattractive working conditions, which include low salaries, heavy workloads and inadequate basic teaching materials have lowered the morale of teachers and resulted in a considerable number of teachers leaving the teaching profession or the country altogether to seek better opportunities elsewhere. Furthermore, the teaching profession has not been spared from the high mortality and morbidity rates due to HIV/AIDS, which has further reduced the capacity of teachers in terms of numbers and performance.

8. The increasing number of professionals leaving the civil service undermines the capacity to deliver quality public services.5 The major reason for the exodus of professionals from the public sector has been inadequate remuneration. Real wages of public servants declined substantially over the last five years as wage indexation lagged behind high inflation. As the Government attempted to address rising fiscal pressures, public sector wage earners effectively became ‘captive’ taxpayers who saw their tax payments increase due to inflation in the absence of full, systematic inflation-based adjustment of tax brackets.6 To stop the outflow of labor from the public sector, the government substantially increased wages in 2005 budget. However, as a result, the public sector wage bill increased from some 9½ percent of GDP in 2003 to about 18 percent in 2005, creating substantial fiscal pressures.7

9. A Fast Track Land Reform Program (FTLRP) had also adversely affected various social dimensions. In the past, almost every commercial farm provided or co-operated with neighbors to provide on-farm health schemes for farm workers, support for local clinics, on-farm schools or support for local area schools, on-farm adult education and support for HIV/AIDS orphans. As a result of the land reform program, nearly all of this social infrastructure has now collapsed. Close to 1 million children that attended the farm schools (almost 40 percent of the total junior school enrollment of the country) have either been relocated to less adequate education facilities in communal areas or have dropped out of school altogether.8

10. The FTLRP also increased food insecurity and swelled the ranks of the vulnerable poor. About 300,000 farm workers and their families are estimated to have lost property and incomes due to the land reform. Many of the displaced families have been forced to seek settlement in communal areas where health and school facilities were already stretched to fully absorb the additional people. These hardships forced many of the families to then relocate to squatter settlements near the towns and cities where they have subsisted mainly on informal activities.

11. The recently launched “Operation Restore Order” that entailed the demolition of illegal dwellings and structures has created a humanitarian crisis that will have many social and economic ramifications. The United Nations (UN) Special Envoy has estimated that some 700,000 people across the country have lost either their homes, or their source of livelihood, or both. A further 2.4 million people have been indirectly affected in varying degrees. The report notes that “[h]undreds of thousands of women, men and children were made homeless, without access to food, water and sanitation, or health care. Education for thousands of school age children has been disrupted. Many of the sick, including those with HIV and AIDS, no longer have access to care. The vast majority of those directly and indirectly affected are the poor and disadvantaged segments of the population. They are, today, deeper in poverty, deprivation and destitution, and have been rendered more vulnerable.”9

12. Net donor aid flows have fallen from around US$375 million in 1996 to an estimated US$240 million in 2004.10 The levels of net aid flows, as a percentage of GDP, have remained broadly constant due to the economic decline. However, in absolute terms, less aid has been provided while the need for it has drastically risen due to financial constraints arising from the over 30 percent decline in GDP from 1998 to 2004. The structure of aid flows has noticeably changed since 2000, with an increasing emphasis on integrated humanitarian relief, food security, and health (especially HIV/AIDS related problems). The UN Special Envoy’s report has urged the government to work with the international community to mobilize immediate assistance to address the consequences of “Operation Restore Order.”

13. Zimbabwe is currently off-track in achieving most of the MDG goals. The recent assessment of progress conducted by the Department for International Development (DFID) indicates that under current economic and social conditions, only the targets for the percentage of one-year old children immunized against measles and the proportion of the population with sustainable access to an improved water source are achievable (see Table 1). With one of the highest prevalence rates in the world, the HIV/AIDS pandemic affects most of the other MDGs. Progress on most MDGs will depend on returning to sustainable economic growth, tackling the impact of HIV/AIDS pandemic, and improve food security.

Table 1.Summary of Progress in Achieving Millennium Development Goals
MDG TargetMDG IndicatorCurrent

Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.Proportion of the total population living below the total consumption poverty line (%).80
Prevalence of underweight children under the age of five (%).17
Achieve universal primary education.Gross enrolment in primary education (%).86.9
Proportion of children enrolled in grade one who reach grade five (%).67.6
Promote gender equality.Ratio of girls to boys in primary education (%).97
Ratio of girls to boys in secondary education (%).89
Ratio of girls to boys in tertiary education (%).58
Reduce child mortality.Under-five mortality rate per 1000 live births.126
Percentage of one-year old children immunized against measles.82
Improve maternal health.Maternal mortality per 100,0001100
Proportion of births attended by skilled personnel (%).73
Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases.HIV prevalence among pregnant women aged 15-24 years.33
Prevalence of Malaria, number of people.600,000
Deaths resulting from Malaria.626
Percentage of TB cases detected under DOTS.46
Proportion of TB cases cured under DOTS.
Ensure environmental sustainability.Proportion of the population with sustainable access to an improved water source.87
Note: Dark grey shows that Zimbabwe is not achieving or is unlikely to achieve the relevant MDG/indicator. Light grey shows that it is on-track or highly likely to achieve the relevant MDG/indicator. White indicates that it is too early to judge the extent of achievement.Source: DFID and the World Bank, June 2005.
Note: Dark grey shows that Zimbabwe is not achieving or is unlikely to achieve the relevant MDG/indicator. Light grey shows that it is on-track or highly likely to achieve the relevant MDG/indicator. White indicates that it is too early to judge the extent of achievement.Source: DFID and the World Bank, June 2005.

    Agricultural Growth and Land Reform in Zimbabwe: Assessment and Recovery Options. The JAG Trust’s Comment on the World Bank Report no. 31699 ZW. 2005.

    Interim Strategy Note for the Republic of Zimbabwe. International Development Association. Report No. 31553-ZW. February2005.

    Report of the Fact-Finding Mission to Zimbabwe to Assess the Scope and Impact of Operation Murambatsvina by the UN Special Envoy on Human Settlements Issues in Zimbabwe. July2005.

    Zimbabwe Human Development Report 2003: Redirecting our Responses to HIV and AIDS. UNDP. 2003.

    Zimbabwe: Millennium Development Goals. Summary of Progress. Memo. DFID.May2005.

Prepared by Oleksiy Ivaschenko (World Bank).

About 80 percent of the population is estimated to be living below the official poverty line. The most recent Poverty Assessment Survey Study (PASS) was conducted by the Ministry of Public Service, Labor and Social Welfare and UNDP at the end of 2003, with final results expected by the end of July, 2005. This survey is expected to shed light on recent poverty trends and changes in the poverty profile.

See Chapter II for more details on food insecurity.

Zimbabwe Human Development Report 2003, UNDP, 2003.

According to the 2002 National Population Census, Zimbabwe experienced a substantial brain drain, with 3.4 million people out of the country’s total population of 11.6 million people (at that time) living outside the country.

Before the September 2004 change in tax brackets, 70 percent of civil servants were subject to the highest marginal tax rate of 45 percent.

Official statistics.

Agricultural Growth and Land Reform in Zimbabwe: Assessment and Recovery Options. The JAG Trust’s Comment on the World Bank Report No. 3199 ZW. 2005.

Report of the Fact-Finding Mission to Zimbabwe to Assess the Scope and Impact of Operation Murambatsvina by the UN Special Envoy on Human Settlements Issues in Zimbabwe, page 7.

The estimates come from the DFID Memo “Zimbabwe: Millennium Development Goals. Summary of Progress.” May 2005.

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