Zimbabwe's president appeals for help to end country's 'financial isolation'

Nyasha Chingono in Victoria Falls
Photograph: Valery Sharifulin/Tass

The president of Zimbabwe has appealed for help in pulling his debt-ridden country out of “financial isolation”.

Emmerson Mnangagwa made his passionate call for international funding after he failed to secure new loans from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, African Development Bank and the Paris Club due to outstanding foreign debts of $8bn (£6.2bn).

Addressing the Africa forum on sustainable development in Zimbabwe’s northern town of Victoria Falls this week he said: “Our five-year national development plans running up to 2063 will endeavour to achieve an upper middle-income status by 2030.

“The need to remain alive to the shocks of drought and the impact of climate change through the necessary social safety nets cannot be overemphasised,” he said. “We appeal for multilateral support to augment our efforts.”

His pleas come amid Zimbabwe’s worst hunger crisis in a decade, with 5.5 million people in rural areas facing starvation. Humanitarian agencies have said $200m (£155m) is needed to ensure people have food.

The country is also facing rising poverty levels and hyperinflation. Mnangagwa knows that only immediate political and economic reforms will secure fresh funding but he has stressed that change will cost money.

“It should be understood that we are undertaking the reforms without the requisite external financial support as is the norm. It is regrettable that the funding gap for the sustainable development goals in Africa remains low and weighs down on the attainment of [the] SDGs in Africa,” he said.

The forum heard that no African country is on track to achieve the 17 goals – the UN blueprint to end poverty, protect the planet and address inequalities – by the 2030 deadline.

Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Rwanda, Kenya, South Africa and Cape Verde have all made significant advances in reducing poverty, improving health, protecting the environment and reducing gender inequalities.

Amina Mohammed, UN deputy secretary general, said climate change had weakened Africa’s chances of meeting the SDGs, citing the current locust outbreak as a threat to food security.

“Major scientific and analytical reviews have made it clear that we are not on track to achieve the SDGs by 2030, and just a few weeks ago the African Union first report on the implementation of agenda 2063 demonstrated that, despite earlier progress, there is still an urgent need for enhanced action,” she told the forum.

“As we begin this exciting decade, it is vital that we recognise the progress being made in Africa on multiple fronts. Africa continues to have some of the world’s fastest-growing economies, and growth is projected to remain stable in 2020.”

She said progress had been made in “the quest for peace and security” but the number of people living in poverty had risen since 2013 and youth unemployment rates are more than twice that of adults.

“There have been considerable gains in health outcomes – with less women and children dying in childbirth or because of diseases; improvements in access to education and electricity; and a dramatic rise in internet connectivity,” she added.

Delegates were lauded for increased commitments on climate action, with most African countries having signed the Paris agreement, and 48 countries have ratified the convention.

Initiatives like the African Continental Free Trade Agreement are also expected to spur growth.

Related: Zimbabwe urged to prioritise children as record poverty causes food shortages

“Since no country is on track to deliver by 2030, every country must increase its ambition,” said Mohammed.

“That starts with national plans, policies, budgets and institutions that are commensurate with what it will take to deliver universal access to quality social services and an economy that provides decent jobs for all. It also requires national financing frameworks that support governments in mobilising and aligning financing from all sources.”

Paul Mpuga, economic affairs officer at the Economic Commission for Africa, said funding was a huge issue for a continent that needs $2.5tn to achieve the SDGs by 2030.

“We have the funding gap challenge because the requirements to realising sustainable development are huge,” Mpuga said. “This is going to be an uphill task. Realising [the] SDGs is not going to be easy. Most countries may not … but the potential is strong if they take action in good governance.”