The full extent of the economic and health crisis affecting Zimbabwe has been made clear by a new report from the World Health Organisation. Average life expectancy has fallen to 37 years for men and 34 years for women, which are among the lowest rates in the world. Over the past two decades, life expectancy in the country has dropped by around 20 years, largely because of the impact of HIV/Aids, but there also appears to be an economic angle to the decline.
The link between poverty and HIV/Aids is still not clearly understood. It is likely that the virus has a more severe impact on people who are under- and malnourished but it is also possible that infection rates are higher among those who have already been weakened by a lack of nutrition.
This certainly seems to be the case in Zimbabwe and is a likely factor across the rest of Southern Africa.
The Zimbabwean economy has declined over a long period and GDP is believed to have decreased by around 40% over the past seven years.
As the article in the box opposite reveals, Zambia has a lower life expectancy for the population as a whole but the life expectancy of Zimbabwean women is believed to be the lowest in the world.
The extent of the food shortages in the country was made clear in February when the country's main flour mill revealed that it only had two weeks' supply of wheat remaining in its stores, despite very high bread prices.
It is estimated that a high proportion of people in formal employment is now out of work as a succession of foreign investors have pulled out of the country and many domestic firms have been declared bankrupt. While relations between the Zimbabwean government and most Western governments remain strained, there seems little prospect of an increase in aid to the country. However, the Chinese have been rapidly increasing their presence and investing in mining, mainlyl for platinum, farming and commercial activities.
Zimbabwe remains on the brink of expulsion from the IMF. It avoided being forced out in February only by making a $9m repayment on its $128m debt to the IMF regarding a poverty reduction scheme through the General Resources Account. Harare also managed to repay some of its debts to the Fund last year and has promised complete repayment by November 2006.
However, expulsion still seems likely if Zimbabwe fails to make more substantial repayments during the course of this year and it would be the first country to...