Zimbabwe, once known for her agricultural and mineral wealth as the “bread basket of Africa”, has seen a dramatic decline in infrastructure and service delivery in the past two decades and a resultant spike in poverty and disease. This is largely due to political instability and corruption and mismanagement of national government run services and resources.

Zimbabwe achieved recognised independence from Britain in 1980, following a 14-year period as an unrecognised state under the predominantly white minority government of Rhodesia. Following independence, a decade of relative stability and economic growth saw the situation for the poor in Zimbabwe begin to improve. During the late 1990’s though, a resurgence in political instability, the large scale emigration of the skilled workforce and outbreaks of disease led to a rapid decline in economic growth and general development.

In 2008, this decline peaked as Zimbabwe entered a state of hyperinflation.  Unofficial figures put Zimbabwe’s annual inflation rate at 516 quintillion percent, with prices doubling every 1.3 days. In 2009, the economic crisis in Zimbabwe was reported as the second worst inflation spike in history. Since the formation of the Unity Government in 2009, the Zimbabwean economy has been on the rebound. GDP grew by more than 5% in the year 2009 and 2011. Growth is forecast to reach 8% in 2010, buoyed by high mineral prices and the improving agriculture sector.

This has not been reflected, however, in the delivery of essential services like healthcare and water and sanitation, which are still largely controlled by the government. This situation is highlighted by the statistics that show Zimbabwe now has one of the lowest life expectancies on Earth – 44 for men and 43 for women, down from 60 in 1990. The rapid drop has been ascribed mainly to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.  Infant mortality rose from 5.9% in the late 1990s to 12.3% by 2004.

Water supply and sanitation services, once a source of national pride, have suffered a major collapse in both urban and rural areas which contributed to the 2008/2009 cholera epidemic that claimed more than 4,000 lives.

According to UNICEF/WHO figures 83 per cent of Zimbabweans have access to improved water and 40 per cent had access to improved sanitation. Yet in recent years, the combination of aging equipment, lack of regular power to operate water pumps and a shortage of skilled technicians to manage repairs has caused taps in urban areas to often run dry and left millions of people without access to a regular supply of safe water. The situation in rural areas is even more acute, as about 60 per cent of pumps are broken and an estimated 2.1 million people do not have access to improved water sources while about one-third of the population practices open defecation.

The fragile political environment and unstable security situation makes it difficult for foreign development organisations to work in Zimbabwe, although Just a Drop was able to carry out a project in Hwange National Park in 2006.