ORDINARY Zambians can no longer cope with the escalating cost of living, which is being made worse by skyrocketing inflation, says Consumer Unity Trust Society (CUTS) programmes manager Ishmael Zulu.

In an interview, Zulu cautioned that the food security situation in the country would deteriorate to an extent where citizens’ lives would be lost due to hunger if remedial measures were not swiftly implemented to arrest the rise in the cost of living.

“The continued rise in inflation is something that continues to draw a lot of concern. When we look back at 2020, it’s just two months when we got a reduction in inflation and the rest of the months of the year, the inflation would rise. And you can attribute this to the kwacha as well. Last year, the kwacha was the worst performing currency, and because of that, our weakened kwacha and Zambia being an import-dependent country, we saw a sharp rise in the prices of goods and services and this is where our concern stems from. With another rise in the inflation rate, the general prices of goods and services have seen a sharp increase. Not too long ago, we saw cement companies hike the price of cement. This would have an adverse impact on the economy. When you look at the reason behind the cement companies hiking prices, and you can draw a conclusion between the cost of producing cement because they purchase the materials abroad in US dollars. Again, with the depreciating kwacha, prices have increased,” Zulu said.

“Even simple things, when you walk into shops, you find that basic food stuffs such as eggs cost twice the price, they were costing a year ago. And what makes it worse is that because of the COVID-19 pandemic, from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, we saw a lot of people lose their jobs. We saw a lot of companies closing down. As a result, numerous people lost their income. In addition to the increasing numbers of people falling into poverty, we have seen the cost of living constantly increasing. Conversely, more people have lost their purchasing power to an extent where it is becoming unsustainable anymore. When a significant number of the population are relegated to the poor, it has an adverse impact on government’s ability to bring to life the economy. The economy cannot grow when a significant number of people are facing serious hardships! It becomes more and more difficult. It’s important that government provides a safety net to the vulnerable. Zambians can no longer cope with the increasing cost of living.”

And he urged government to quickly implement measures to stabilise the high cost of living because citizens will eventually drop dead due to ravaging hunger.

“We will see a situation where people are dying of hunger because of the increasing cost of living! It’s important that government puts in place serious measures to ensure that the inflation rate is low. Government should come out strongly in their plans to mitigate, I think, through institutions such as the Bank of Zambia (BoZ), Ministry of Finance to ensure that measures are in place that will see the inflation rate stabilise in the short and the medium-term. I think more importantly in the long-term, it’s important that government identifies key sectors that can be focused so that through the private sector and see how we can target specific groups that can contribute towards reducing the continued rise in inflation. If we can scale-up the manufacturing sector; if we can scale-up local production of goods and services, it can offset these challenges we are facing and the cost of living, which has increased exponentially,” said Zulu.

Zambia’s annual rate of inflation spiked to 21.5 per cent last month, up from 19.2 per cent recorded in December, mainly induced by massive price increases in food items, the highest on record since April, 2016.

The increased inflation last month was largely driven by huge price increases in food items, which include essentials such as bread, eggs, mealie meal and fish, among others.

So far, the highest annual rate of inflation remains at 22.9 per cent recorded back in February, 2016, a period of sustained price hikes in essential food and non-food items ahead of the general election that year, a trajectory being repeated again this year.