Zimbabwe was once the food basket of southern Africa. But in recent years, there have been widespread food shortages, with as many as five million undernourished, according to the UN.
The majority of Zimbabweans are emerging from the socio-economic crisis poorer, more vulnerable and with fewer assets and capabilities than before.
The provision of key public services such as education, health and water infrastructure have suffered. The crisis led to an exodus of professionals and skilled workers who left in search of better economic opportunities. In villages, the labour demands on women and girls increased as men and boys left.
In urban areas, there is increasing disagreement over the regulation of the informal sector, which provides employment for a large number of poor people who survive mostly through vending and small-scale production.
The political and economic situation in Zimbabwe is fragile and unpredictable, and the atmosphere is increasingly polarised and tense. There is looming hunger, rising unemployment and fears that Zimbabwe could become a failed state like Somalia. The country is moving towards unrest, as the government is failing to protect its citizens.
Real GDP grew by about 6% in 2009 and was estimated to grow by about 5.7% in 2012. But despite these impressive figures, poverty is deepening.
Zimbabwe was ranked 156 out of 187 countries in the UN Development Programme’s Human Development Index for 2014. In 2008, up to 80% of people survived on less than US$2 a day. Life expectancy at birth is just below 60 years.
The country is ranked 110 out of 149 countries in the UN’s Gender Inequality Index. More than 35% of parliamentary seats are held by women, while only 49% of women have a secondary education compared to 62% of men.
People are over-reliant on subsistence crops, but improvements in crop production alone will not increase livelihood security. Communities lack access to markets due to weak agricultural investment policies, undeveloped markets, poor road networks and lack of market intelligence and business skills.
Poor people, especially women, face barriers to entrepreneurship, such as limited education, a lack of capital and business skills, and difficulties in accessing credit.
Low rainfall and poor harvests have been the norm in southern Zimbabwe for the last15 years.
Zimbabwe has a young, largely unemployed population (figures touched 80% in 2011) that is marginalised and susceptible to being drawn into violence driven by the politics, poverty and injustice, of a polarised society.