Students at UNICEF-supported Mapengani Primary school in Matebeleland South Province, Zimbabwe, smile and stretch their arms overhead during a classroom activity.

UNICEF in Zimbabwe

The humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe remains fragile and complex due to climate-driven disasters, economic instability and public health crises. Read more about what UNICEF is doing to help children and families in the country, and how you can contribute.

Needs of children are increasing in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe, a landlocked low-income country in Southern Africa, suffers from chronic economic instability and the harsh effects of climate change, from floods to extremely dry weather related to the El Niño phenomenon. 

In April 2024, the country declared a state of emergency as prolonged drought continued to stymie efforts to contain a massive cholera outbreak that started in February 2023 and had spread to 55 districts in all 10 provinces.

There have been many other public health crises: a measles outbreak in 2022 resulted in more than 700 deaths, and there were 17 cases of polio in 2023, years after Africa was declared polio-free

Preventable and treatable diseases are able to gain a foothold due to the overburdened health care system. One-quarter of all children are stunted due to malnutrition and cases of severe wasting are on the rise.

Children also face multiple barriers to accessing quality education. Poor families living in remote areas, far from any school, often choose to put children to work instead. Education for boys is often prioritized ahead of education for girls due to social norms and issues like teenage pregnancy and early marriage

Women and girls have become increasingly vulnerable to gender-based violence, which heightens at times of crisis due to pre-existing gender and social inequalities. 

How UNICEF is working for children in Zimbabwe

UNICEF, on the ground in Zimbabwe since 1982, works tirelessly to protect the welfare and rights of children in the country. UNICEF supports the government of Zimbabwe in emergency preparedness and response while also working to build strong relationships at the community level to facilitate program implementation and to ensure sustainable impact.

Here are some examples of ongoing program efforts.


UNICEF facilitates access to primary health care in UNICEF-supported facilities for millions of children and women in Zimbabwe every year. Services include routine vaccinations for children to protect them from preventable diseases such as measles and cholera.

UNICEF also provides antiretroviral therapy (ART) to tens of thousands of children, adolescents and pregnant and lactating women living with HIV.

A child in Buhera district, Manicaland province, Zimbabwe, receives an oral cholera vaccine as part of a UNICEF-supported immunization campaign.
In Buhera district, Manicaland province, Zimbabwe, a child receives an oral cholera vaccine as part of a UNICEF-supported immunization campaign in response to the 2023 outbreak. Cholera, a preventable and treatable waterborne disease, was able to gain a foothold in the country, especially in areas with poor access to safe water, an issue compounded by prolonged drought related to El Niño. © UNICEF/UNI519678/


UNICEF coordinates with local partners in Zimbabwe to prevent malnutrition and provide nutrition support to children in need. Interventions include:

  • screening and treating malnourished children
  • counseling caregivers on optimal feeding practices for infants and young children
  • providing vitamin A supplements
  • addressing seasonal food insecurity by providing cash assistance to vulnerable households in rural food-insecure districts


UNICEF works with the government and other partners in Zimbabwe to increase equitable access to quality, inclusive education and to improve completion rates and learning outcomes. UNICEF Zimbabwe's Quality Learning and Skills Development program, for example, focuses on providing students who are excluded from formal education — including those living in remote areas — with learning services in community settings. 

Community outreach efforts have helped boost enrollment in traditional educational settings, including children with disabilities, who are provided with assistive devices, such as braille orbit readers for the visually impaired and wheelchairs, walkers and crutches for the physically impaired.

In collaboration with partners, UNICEF is also working to equip schools with solar power — a sustainable solution in a country where many areas have low and unreliable access to electricity. Solarizing schools serves to enhance the learning environment with improved lighting and continued support for digital learning and as a climate resilience building measure. 

Water storage containers and solar panels installed by UNICEF and partners at the Mapengani primary school in Matebeleland South Province, Zimbabwe.
Water storage containers and solar panels installed by UNICEF and partners at the Mapengani Primary School in Matebeleland South Province, Zimbabwe. Solarizing schools helps build climate resilience while also enhancing the overall learning environment. © UNICEF/UNI536600/Prinsloo

Child and social protection

UNICEF is working to strengthen partnerships with local communities, including women- and girl-focused organizations, to ensure sound, community-oriented decision making. Some examples of UNICEF's protection work include:

  • providing access to gender-based violence risk mitigation, prevention and/or response interventions to tens of thousands of women, girls and boys
  • assisting unaccompanied and separated children by providing access to family-based care or a suitable alternative
  • supporting hundreds of thousands of people with access to a safe and accessible channel to report sexual exploitation and abuse
  • providing access to community-based mental health and psychosocial support for hundreds of thousands of children, adolescents and caregivers
  • Supporting households with UNICEF-funded humanitarian cash transfers

Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH)

Alongside partners, UNICEF works in Zimbabwe to increase access to climate-resilient safe water and sanitation, promote good hygiene and provide critical WASH supplies for the most vulnerable children and families in high-risk areas.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Zimbabwe are reached every year with a sufficient quantity and quality of water for drinking and household use thanks to these efforts, and UNICEF's focus on multi-use systems and capacity building reinforces their long-term sustainability. WASH interventions are integral to the response to public health emergencies like the 2023 cholera outbreak.

Fighting cholera with safe water, prevention

Zimbabwe is one of several countries in the world that experienced a surge in cholera cases beginning in 2023, with children representing a significant proportion of cases and deaths. There are many contributing factors, including poor WASH infrastructure, regular sewer bursts, erratic water supply caused by losses in power, shortages of bulk water treatment chemicals, poor solid waste management and unsafe hygiene practices.

Rapid population growth has compounded the situation, with communities settling in areas without water and sewer systems, forcing families to turn to unsafe sources, such as shallow wells and river water, which are often contaminated.

UNICEF's response is a combination of emergency support and capacity building. Emergency measures include bucket chlorination, water trucking and swift rehabilitation of water supply infrastructure in cholera-affected areas, and distributing hygiene kits that include soap, household water treatment chemicals and water storage containers. UNICEF also supports public campaigns that reach millions of people with information about cholera prevention.

Capacity building efforts include training frontline health workers to provide treatment services. 

Vaccinating children to curb polio resurgence 

Zimbabwe has struggled with a resurgence in polio cases. The country last reported a case of indigenous wild poliovirus (WPV) in 1986 and was certified polio-free in 2005. Then in 2023, Zimbabwe detected 17 cases of circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2 (cVDPV2) — and declared a public health emergency. 

With UNICEF's support, a national vaccination campaign was initiated targeting all children under age 10, aiming to interrupt transmission of the virus and prevent further outbreaks.

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TOP PHOTO: UNICEF is working with local partners in Zimbabwe to help schools deliver quality education and to become more climate resilient. Above, students enjoy a break between lessons at Mapengani primary school in Matebeleland South Province. © UNICEF/UNI536604/Prinsloo
TOP PHOTO: UNICEF is working with local partners in Zimbabwe to help schools deliver quality education and to become more climate resilient. Above, students enjoy a break between lessons at Mapengani primary school in Matebeleland South Province. © UNICEF/UNI536604/Prinsloo